Science, Body, Soul, and Resurrection (RJS)

Today we wrap up our discussion centered on Kevin Corcoran’s book Rethinking Human Nature: A Christian Materialist Alternative to the Soul
where he develops a constitution view of human persons. We will look at the fifth and sixth chapters: I believe in the Resurrection Body and the Life of the World to Come and The Constitution View and the Bible.

This leads to a couple of questions that have come up in comments on previous posts on this book – how do we understand resurrection and what happens between death and resurrection.

One commenter noted:

In previous threads on this book we’ve raised and briefly discussed
the question of how Corcoran’s view deals with the “in-between” state
that (all? most?) Christians believe exists, between our physical death
and bodily resurrection. Where, and What, are we?

Besides “it’s a mystery” (which I grant) I’ve yet to see anything
offered even as a hypothesis, that would allow reconciliation of even a
Constitution View, with Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross that
“Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Both Jesus’ body and the
thief’s body stayed on earth and were disposed of/buried. So who/what
are the “you” and the “me” in Jesus’ statement?

Corcoran admits that this is something of a conundrum.

When I talk to Christian Dualists about the afterlife, I am frequently met with something like the following response:”Wow, am I ever glad I’m a dualist! I mean, what ever the problem with dualism, at least we don’t need any wacked-out  metaphysical prestidigitation to make sense of postmortem survival.” If the issue is simply one of postmortem survival, then I admit that dualists have a much easier time accomodating such a doctrine. (p. 133)

But Christians don’t believe in postmortem survival alone. The Christian doctrine is a doctrine of resurrection, not
reincarnation, and a doctrine of bodily resurrection not disembodied
existence. Bodily resurrection is a mystery – but it is a mystery for both dualists and materialists, or so Corcoran claims. This is the topic I would like to discuss today.

How do you understand resurrection – or the time between death and resurrection? What are the implications for our Christian understanding of the essence of human persons – as either dualist or materialist?

Another commenter brought up 1 Cor. 15 asking:

Does he interact with 1 Cor 15:35ff, about the natural body being sown
and a spiritual body being raised? I have always read this assuming
that the body was part of the person but not the person – the person
could be separate from the “natural body”. Perhaps there are ways to
read 1 Cor 15 that are amenable to the CV?

Both the resurrection of Jesus and the discussion in 1 Cor. 15 lead to
a conclusion that there is a causal connection between the original
body and the glorified and perfected spiritual body of the resurrection. The resurrection of the body is a problem for a dualist view of human persons.

Thomas Aquinas believed that the soul exists in a temporarily disembodied form between death and resurrection. This soul “organizes
both the matter that composed the body before death and the matter that
will compose the body after death. Same soul; therefore same body.

Aquinas, as Corcoran points out, recognized the need to account for the sameness of the resurrection body. But the account seems somewhat lacking. The soul (if there is a soul) cannot be poured into just anything. The resurrection body is causally connected to the original body. Jesus’s resurrection body was causally connected with the crucified body.

Corcoran concludes:

In the end, I find the arguments for a dualistic anthropology to be flawed. If the Old and New Testaments do in fact teach that there is an intermediate state of conscious existence, this in no way entails dualism. The fact that we have found dualism taught in the Bible may have more to do with the conceptual framework in which we have read it (a context that fails to allow for an intermediate state of bodily existence) than what it actually teaches. (p. 144)

Biblical references to soul can be read in a dualistic fashion – but need not be read in such a fashion. To love God with heart, soul, strength, and mind means to love God with our whole being – not that there are separable parts of our being.   The same for passages like 1 Thess. 5:23. But what does it mean to be away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 12:2)? Corcoran suggests that such passages do entail a split – as does resurrection itself, but they do not entail a disembodied existence.

But proof texts do not rule the day —

The most important question is not What does this text teach about the human person? but How should we understand this text within the whole narrative of God’s Word? The whole narrative, from creation to new creation, seems to be one of embodiment and materiality. (147)

I agree – the whole story is one of embodiment and materiality from Genesis through Revelation. The new heaven and new earth is not an immaterial wisp any more than the first creation. And there is a causal connection in creation and in the embodiment of human persons. Shades of N. T. Wright in much of this discussion.

Despite the title there has not been much science in this post, and I
don’t think that science has much to add – except that the evidence is
in agreement with humans as embodied material creatures. This has some significant ramifications for how we live the Christian life and grow in Christian virtue.

What do you think? Is the whole story is one of embodiment and materiality – a story that should help form our understanding of the nature of human persons, the bodily resurrection, and the life to come?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

  • Peter

    This is intriguing.
    Thank you.
    Has anyone wondered about the implications that this might have for our understanding of our relationship to the Holy Spirit (indwelling as a notion in particular)?

  • phil_style

    My opinion of post-death, but pre-resurrection is thta the person rests, aka sleep. We’re not conciouss now when we sleep, and basically cease 9as a self-aware person)to exist during that time anyway. Why can’t that ‘experience’ or lack of experience be replicated when we die?
    As for the thief on the cross, are we SURE about the translation?
    Does “I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise” differ from “I tell you, today you wil be with me in paradise”. Does the original text lend towards such a grammatical subtlety?

  • derek Leman

    Let me suggest that Paul may have contemplated the problem of bodiless existence in the interim. That is how I take the following: “Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked” (2 Cor 5:2-3).
    I think it possible that naked here is a reference to the state of being away from the body and home with God. Paul did not regard this as the final promise, but a state to be completed with our heavenly dwelling (resurrection body).
    As a strong believer in the holistic view of human nature, I nonetheless believe that a bodiless existence is possible, though not ideal.
    Derek Leman

  • ron

    If dualism is merely an optional reading of the Bible, and I think that is the case, then it seems to me that its popularity in Christianity might be more the result of a synthesis with Platonic thought read back into Biblical passages, than having been derived from the Bible itself.
    John Polkinghorne speaks to this in his book “The Faith of a Physicist” (p 163), where he notes Jesus’ statement, “As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
    Then Polkinghorne writes, “The Christian hope is, therefore, for me not the hope of survival of death, the persistence post mortem of a spiritual component which possesses, or has been granted, an intrinsic immortality. Rather, the Christian hope is of death and resurrection. My understanding of the soul is that it is the almost infinitely complex, dynamic, information-bearing pattern, carried at any instant by the matter of my animated body and continuously developing throughout all the constituent changes of my bodily make-up during the course of my earthly life. That psychosomatic unity is dissolved at death by the decay of my body, but I believe it is a perfectly coherent hope that the pattern that is me will be remembered by God and its instantiation will be recreated by him when he reconstitutes me in a new environment of his choosing. Thus, death is a real end but not the final end, for only God himself is ultimate. … I believe that the tradition which is truer, both to the New Testament insight and to modern understanding, is that which relies on the hope of resurrection beyond death.”

  • nathan
    i just read this yesterday…
    would love to hear people’s thoughts on how it intersects with the issues of this post.
    thanks for this discussion!

  • Sam

    Great series. Joseph Ratzinger is a good read on this – happened to do my u-grad diss on his “Eschatology” (1977). There he tries to rehabilitate a Christian way of talking about a “soul” in a non-dualistic fashion. He got beat-up for this by people who didn’t read him carefully, IMO.
    He basically sees Christian faith challenging our view of anthropology (not the other way around) because the intermediate-state is defined in the NT as being with Christ (Philippians, the Paradise saying) whilst still awaiting the final resurrection of the dead.
    The NT requires a “Träger des Seins mit Christus” – an anthropological “carrier” of “being with Christ” whilst my body rots. That’s the premise that leads Ratzinger to talk about a “dialogical immortality of the soul” – saying that we are not substantially “soul” in a crude platonic sense, but that our “soul”, whatever it is, is the result of God’s speech. His relationship with us isn’t curbed following our death, rather we sustained by his work and are with Christ.
    But read him for yourself – also available in English!

  • Karl

    Along with Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross, I think there are some other hints in the Biblical witness that he fails to deal with.
    What about king Saul consulting a medium and apparently speaking with the spirit of Samuel? Fakery? Hallucination? Demonic impersonation? A legend made up in order to convey a deeper, more important spiritual truth but with no meaning as to whether Samuel’s spirit really existed apart from his buried body? Perhaps. But scripture doesn’t say so.
    And, when Jesus was walking across the Sea of Gallilee and the disciples saw him they feared that he was a ghost. Apparently they (even though Jews) had a conception of a disembodied spirit being able to walk about. Jesus didn’t correct them and explain there are no such things as disembodies spirits. Likewise, after his resurrection Jesus reassured Thomas and others that he was corporeal, by allowing them to touch him and by eating with them.
    Who, what and where, are the “great cloud of witnesses” referred to in Hebrews 12?
    Maybe all of the above is, like many of us believe the Genesis creation account to be, simply accommodation to the world picture (dualistic beliefs) of the time, beliefs that we now know must have been false. But I’m far less convinced of Corcoran’s views on the completely indivisible body/soul, than I am, say, of RJS’ views on Genesis.

  • Paul Johnston

    Corcoran states that no one has offered an explanation about the in-between state.
    He has not read wide enough. You should see this book.
    Raised immortal: resurrection and immortality in the New Testament By Murray J. Harris

  • phil_style

    Ron, Polkinghorne’s comment are, I think, incisive: “Thus, death is a real end but not the final end, for only God himself is ultimate”
    The NT speaks, does it not, of those who have “fallen asleep in Christ (one of the books attributed to Peter?)? Does this reflect the idea that at least this author(s) was comfortable that dead believers were not in ‘heaven’ but asleep, until the general resurrection?

  • nathan

    from a pastoral standpoint, i’ve had people look at me cross-eyed when i’ve talked about the resurrection of the body…and how God is concerned with our bodies…
    i think our “anthropology” not only rises out of “dualist” commitments, but also out of a “soteriology of escape” that does not account for the human body or the created order at large. And in that space we lose a critical emphasis of historic Christian theology while giving dualist ideas the chance to fill the void in our incomplete language about salvation.
    furthermore, when it comes to theology on the ground, even describing “heaven” as an intermediary state before resurrection will garner push back. so it’s important that we not only wrestle with these ideas, but also how we can communicate them/teach them…
    one last thing and then i’ll stop writing this “novel”:
    i would suggest that the “missional” fuel that comes from re-appropriating a fuller view of the human body and the created order in our anthropology and soteriology would maximize our ability to engage the culture around us…

  • phil_style

    Karl, What I think you’ve highlighted, by your various scriptural referecnes from the OT is that the biblical witness is NOT consistent in temrs of anthropology and the human soul/spirit issue. This is, in part, why the two most often quoted religious orders of early NT times (pharises and saducess). Aparently one of the major dividing lines between these two ‘schools’ was whether or not the human person survived death in some way. Jewish/Hebrew historians, please feel free to correct me. It seems BCE Judaism was far from united on this issue.

  • Kate

    Do we need to “be” anywhere between death and resurrection? If God is outside of time, can’t we go from the instant of death to the instant of resurrection without needing to be anywhere in between? So the thief as he died on the cross would wake resurrected with Christ “in Paradise”, but looking from a time-bound perspective, if we ask “where is he now?” he might be described as being “asleep in Christ” while from his perspective there was no sleep, and he entered our “future” long ago.

  • Karl

    Phil, that being the case I’d rather see a hypothesis that takes the entire biblical witness into account. I don’t think Corcoran’s truly does. Also, a significant number of the scriptural references are NT rather than OT:
    “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” “Today day you will be with me in Paradise.” (exchange between Jesus and thief on cross)
    “Cloud of witneses” mentioned in Hebrews
    Disciples afraid Jesus is “ghost” when he walks on water
    Resurrected Jesus proves to Thomas and others that he isn’t a ghost, that he is in fact corporeal.

  • RJS

    This is one of the suggestions Corcoran discusses (I wish I had the book at hand – but will look at it again tonight).
    But this doesn’t seem quite consistent with texts like the transfiguration or the resurrection of Jesus.

  • Frog Leg

    I don’t see the inconsistency between Kate’s viewpoint (which is also mine BTW) and the Resurrection or Transfiguration. In the Transfiguration Elijah and Moses were out of time, and then put back into time for that brief period, with something similar happening with the Resurrection (although in this case it was Christ putting himself back into time).
    Part of the confusion I believe rests that our conceptions of causality are rooted in time. In these acts we have causality (“were put” back into time), but the causality extends beyond time.

  • Alan K

    There simply is no way of knowing what is going on between death and resurrection. The language of the Bible at this point is symbolic and elusive. “Paradise” was a wayside rest in the world of Jesus, a temporary stop on the way to a final destination. But what kind of rest? Being “with the Lord” means…what? The Bible doesn’t really say.
    In the face of the reality of death and loss, most bereaved people seem to desire some sort of consolation that loved ones have received a reward, some conscious existence somewhere where they are happy. Thus, future resurrection is a problem because it is just that–future. Therefore, part of our unbiblical dualism stems from not coming to terms with our loved ones lying in the ground for perhaps ten of thousands of years awaiting the life of the world to come. Makes one think that we don’t really pay attention to what we confess every single week.

  • RJS

    Frog Leg,
    Not inconsistent – but I rather think that it is a “wacked-out metaphysical prestidigitation” to fit the data.
    I see no indication, actually, that the resurrection is “timeless.” There is still, from Biblical witness, happenings, that is a unidirectional arrow of time in the age which is to come.

  • RJS

    And in my last comment – I don’t mean to put down any ideas, just that it seems to me that all of these options require some prestidigitation to fit some part of the Biblical witness at some point. Kevin’s does – I admit. But so do the ideas of Descartes, Aquinas, Moreland, …

  • John W Frye

    I am uncomfortable with the idea of “soul sleep”. I think ” to fall asleep in Jesus” is Paul’s redemptive phrase for “to die.”
    Has anyone here heard of the view of 2 Cor 5:1 ff that the “dwelling we have in heaven…not made with hands” is a transitional body? So, we are never in a disembodied state, i.e., spirits or ghosts, but have a God-provided temporary body while awaiting the resurrection of the body sown (buried, etc.). We can be absent from the body and present with the Lord instantly, but in a body. At the resurrection this temporary, in between time, body is shed and we received our raised, glorified body.
    Before you reject it outright, scan through the opening of 2 Cor 5 with the idea in mind.

  • Frog Leg

    RJS: “There is still, from Biblical witness, happenings, that is a unidirectional arrow of time in the age which is to come.”
    Could you given an example?
    For me, the “timelessness” perspective is the only way to make sense of Matthew 24:34.

  • Kate

    RJS #17 I didn’t mean (or think) that the resurrection is timeless, but that God, being outside of time might “whisk us” from one moment of time to another, although this might be “timetravel” from an earthbound perspective, or understood as a time of unconcious “soul sleep”, the individual would go from one bodily existance directly to the next, never needing to exist in a “disembodied” form.
    And if our soul/mind/self/memories are determined by the physical details of our mortal brains, God can give us resurrection brains with just the same “imprint”, yet perfected.

  • Frog Leg

    Just to further explain where I am coming from, I used to do research into General Relativity, and that experience has made me very wary of treating time as an ontological quantity.

  • Michael W. Kruse

    Personally, I find the question of existence in the in between time fascinating but ultimately unresolvable. It is a mystery. Our language and categories may not be capable of capturing what happens. We use analogies and metaphors to describe the indescribable. What I have confidence in is a bodily resurrection … a material existence. Beyond that, God has not seen fit to get more specific.
    While speculation is fun and appropriate, I fear some find their faith challenged because they can’t get resolution to this question. To some we need to reaffirm that mystery is okay. Our faith is not in our understanding but in God.

  • Alan K

    John #19
    Interesting idea but I would have to say that the “dwelling not made with hands” in 2 Cor 5:1 is most certainly the raised and glorified body. Only Jesus knows what lies between death and resurrection.

  • John Sobert Sylvest

    I appreciate all of the contributions to this thread. If none of the different types of dualism are in play (and my suspicion is they’re not, but who knows), and a physicalist conception of the soul is on the mark (reductive or nonreductive), then those notions advanced by Polkinghorne, Ratzinger, Kung et al would seem to shed some light on this mystery. I have been tempted to reconcile some aspects of it by distinguishing between the temporal, atemporal and nontemporal and invoking the timelessness explanation.
    But I am sympathetic to RJS’s challenge (#17): “I see no indication, actually, that the resurrection is ‘timeless.’ There is still, from Biblical witness, happenings, that is a unidirectional arrow of time in the age which is to come.”
    That does give me some pause. After all, if nondual hypotheses re: soul have further reinforced, in some ways for me, an even more radically incarnational outlook, which has me deeply in love with all of creation as expressed in the space-time-mass-energy plenum, then my embrace of the embodied material is also an embrace of temporality.
    So, rather than invoke an atemporality, where the temporal is not even a category, or a nontemporality, where it is a category but does not apply in one case or another, I want to invoke a trans-temporal reality, where we go beyond the temporal but not without the temporal. And I do not see this as a trivial distinction even as I recognize that it perhaps adds little explanatory adequacy.
    It does honor my deeply felt aesthetic and moral sensibilities regarding God’s love for creation and its creatures. It does square with my vague panentheist conceptions, whereby the Creator is interacting intimately but not coercively with creation, coaxing us forward as co-creators with our robustly participatory roles in bringing about the Kingdom. How this indwelling or interactivity is accomplished I don’t know but I think we can affirm the possibility of an implicate ordering or divine matrix of interpenetrating fields as a weak analogy but good metaphor. And I think this vague metaphor works for all manner of dual and nondual conceptions of the soul. The essential teaching is THAT we are deeply loved and wonderfully cared for even if HOW remains an intriguing mystery.
    Confusion arises both when we overemphasize our concepts (essentialism, or overemphasis of logical causation, our naming and defining exercises) and when we overemphasize processes (nominalism, our overemphasis on efficient causation, our common sensical and scientific notions of causation). The old sorite paradox results from conflating logical and efficient causation in our speech and thought: When does the addition of individual grains of sand (efficient causation) finally result in a “heap” of sand (logical causation)? When do the processes of conception & gestation (efficient causes) result in a soul (logical causation)? When does resurrection (a process, efficient cause) finally result in a holistic, glorified unity of an enspirited, ensouled, embodied person (logical cause)?
    A radically deconstructive postmodernism is wholly nominalistic and says that all of our naming and defining exercises are mere logical causes, human noetic contributions. An a prioristic, absolutistic, naive realism is wholly essentialistic and says that objective & physical reality either wholly corresponds to our conceptions or meaning, itself, is otherwise threatened. A semiotic realism does an end around this essentialism-nominalism conundrum, seeing these approaches as the obverse sides of the same dualistic epistemic coin, and affirms the meaningfulness of our conceptions to the extent we can cash out some pragmatic value from them, which is to ask what difference would it make if reality was like this (one conception of the soul, or even God) or like that (another approach to the notion of soul or God)?
    Given equally plausible accounts, we would invoke an equiplausibility principle, which encourages us to go with that conception which is the most life-giving & relationship-enhancing, not unrelated to the precautionary principle, which encourages us to take the safest route in our moral and practical deliberations.

  • dopderbeck

    So Cocoran’s view is that the intermediate state is a physical one? That does seem alot like reincarnation, doesn’t it? Other Christian physicalists are more consistent in rejecting an intermediate state altogether (Green, Murphy). Polkinghorne’s view — which I take from the comments has also been expressed in some form by Ratzinger — seems appealing to me. But if God is the “memory buffer” for our persons during the intermediate state, that seems to me to blur the creator / creature distinction unnecessarily.
    It’s true that the intermediate state is a mystery, but it does seem inherent in the Biblical narratives, and certainly is a part of the Tradition. If there are kinds of dualisms that are reconcilable with the scientific evidence, it seems to me nothing is gained and too much is lost in the physicalist view.

  • RJS

    Frog Leg (#22),
    It is possible that there is something completely different in/about the age to come. General Relativity and modern physics give a bit of pause about thinking we understand “time.” Given this it could be part of the confusion in interpreting the bits and pieces of revelation in scripture – we have no framework to think about it properly.
    But if the age to come is traced back to the initial creation, then mission and progress is part of the picture – not a detour of man. I think that such concepts will play a role in the resurrection … but all of this is something of a mystery.

  • RJS

    Corcoran’s view (which he only holds loosely) is definitely not reincarnation – because there is a causally related continuation without gaps. It is more like sloughing off the old body (which becomes a corpse) for an intermediate body to later acquire a perfected resurrection body.
    (And if I am misinterpreting him – I am open to correction)

  • Darren King

    Instead of calling it “Corcoran’s view”, shouldn’t we call it “Corcoran’s vague guess”? Or Corcoran’s glimpse into the beyond of a dense fog? Along with M. Kruse, I think our categories just have no real capacity to deal with this kind of reality. I would go even a step further and suggest that perhaps it is a tad pointless to delve too much into it. I’m not sure I’d call it fascinating when we can’t even approximate any clarity – let alone resolution.
    I imagine an analogy where an amazon tribe observes a painting of people playing hockey on a frozen pond. Not only would they have to to ascertain how people, exactly, move on top of water (after all, what would “frozen” effectively mean to them?), but they’d also be hopeless to put together the point and rules of the game from a static image. They simply just wouldn’t have enough data, or common experience, to get anywhere substantial.
    I really think we’re even several steps further into mystery in trying to uncover some of this stuff. Which leads me to my question: despite the fact that we’re all modern and expect (most) mysteries to have answers, when is the more appropriate response to admit that we don’t really even have enough knowledge to really even approach, let alone answer, the question?

  • RJS

    The real point that Corcoran argues is that nothing in scripture or what we know of the afterlife requires a dualist view of human persons. All can be – and may be better – read with a materialist view of human persons. A dualist view has its own set of conundrums.
    The details are a mystery.
    I may not have made this clear.

  • Darren King

    Fair enough, RJS. Thanks for the clarification. But I would add that even terms like “dualism” and “materialism” assume a lot. I mean A LOT. Those terms make sense in our present reality. But who knows if they apply in any really meaningful way in a context other than our own? I guess I just want to bring to the table a reminder of just how *beyond* these concepts are. Even when we look at the little bit of “evidence” we do have, in the resurrected Jesus – we see that he is clearly “trans-physical”. Do concepts such as “dualism” or “materialism” really even apply in such an example?

  • Tim C.

    I think much of this confusion is based on an assumption I’m not sure how we can be confident is true:
    That in the “place” where we exist after our life, that time is the same as time here. If that place is outside of our own Cosmos. Outside of this Universe (and it would seem that it must be) then by definition it’s outside of time, as Time and Space are related. (Thank you, Einstein)…
    It could easily be that in some fashion what we see as an “intermediate state” between our death and the Resurrection, is only such viewed from “inside” time and space, but not at all such viewed from “outside” of time/space.