A New Position Challenged

There is a rise of young (and not just young) theologians who don’t believe in the soul, who don’t believe the soul is immortal, who don’t believe the soul goes to be with God after death as it awaits reunion with the body at the resurrection. In essence, this view is non-dualistic and therefore teaches there is no “spiritual soul.” Two major proponents of this view are Nancey Murphy and Joel Green, both at Fuller Theological Seminary. Murphy’s a philosophical theologian and her work has been in philosophy, theology as well as neuroscience; Green’s a well-known New Testament scholar who has also done considerable work in neuroscience. Murphy’s book is called Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?, which argues for a nonreductive physicalism,” and Green’s book is called Body, Soul, and Human Life (we’ve discussed Green’s book at this blog). But neither of these two scholars denies the resurrection of eternal life or the kingdom of God; this debate is about human nature and whether we have two parts. They argue humans are complex physical organisms.

Do you think we have a “soul” or that we are “ensouled bodies”? Can humans communicate with God without the body? Do you think God-as-spirit is a defeater for this new view?

This, of course, raises an immediate spectre for many: What happens at death? Do we cease existence awaiting the resurrection? Is Aunt Thelma with the Lord or not? And this immediately leads to the classic Christian position — a kind of immortal soul inherent to humans, a kind of dualistic existence (body and soul/spirit/mind), and a kind of Platonic-influenced view of human nature. Plato looks over this whole discussion — at least that is the view of many.

The principal texts in the New Testament include:

Matt. 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the Onea who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Luke 16:22    “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.

Luke 23:43    Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

2Cor. 5:6    Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.  7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Matthew Levering, in his fine book Jesus and the Demise of Death, argues that Aquinas, who did believe in a spiritual soul, got this one right; so he offers a response to the Murphy-Green line of thinking. (Levering does not discuss the fine small book by Kevin Corcoran, Rethinking Human Nature.) Here are some of the major counter arguments to this new trend, but even if these counters need to be considered, to the degree traditional acts of the soul are now found in the brain and neural acts, evidence for a soul will be hard to find:

1. If God is spirit, or if God is non-bodied, then relationship to God is diminished if there is no soul.

2. If God is spirit, and if God is mind, then mind/spirit/soul can exist without a body.

3. Some of the NT texts seem easier to read as disembodied consciousness and connection to God.

4. Death would have to be a temporary form of annihilation.

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  • Mark Edward

    While I recognize that the Scriptures do not use terms like ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ with any singular, systematic definitions, if I had to pin down specific concepts for each, based on what I see in the Bible, I’d go with Genesis 2 as the starting point.

    Body of dust, plus breath/spirit of life gifted by God, makes a living soul. In this way, we do not ‘have’ souls, we ARE souls. The soul is the self, the person, comprised of body and breath/spirit. We sin, the body returns to dust, the breath/spirit returns to God, and the soul dies. I believe the Scriptures point that, in death, the soul is inactive, deaf, dumb, and altogether unaware, if not simply ceasing to exist. Death / sheol / the grave is simply the natural end of all humanity, on account of sin. Temporary annihilation, oblivion, whatever.

    (Only three Scriptural anomalies seem to counter this to my knowledge: the raising of Samuel, Isaiah’s taunt of the king of Babylon, and Jesus’ parable of Eleazar. The first has a wide range of interpretations, from it being divine providence, to it being the witch who legitimately called Samuel’s ghost, to it being a demon, to it being ventriloquism, and I’m not really settled on it. The other two I take as literary devices, not literal accounts.)

    Following that, I believe the righteous dead now live through the resurrection of Jesus. Having been freed from sin, they live in some way that I am incapable of imagining or comprehending (in heaven? 2 Cor 5.6-8; Eph 2.5-6; Heb 12.22-24; Rev 6.9-11; 7.9-17; 11.12; 14.1-5; 19.1-10… I think most of these, even if symbolic, still reflect some kind of literal reality). Not resurrection, but still, some kind of ‘life’ in the Christ. So yes, there can be communication with God even if we do not have a body. But I take the common criticism: immortality is not inherent to the human soul or spirit or anything; immortality (whenever that ‘begins’) is a gift reserved solely for those in Jesus.

    Then comes the Last Day. The dead are raised bodily, as Jesus was. However the judgment takes place (I picture Jesus sitting on a throne, and decreeing this and that, but again I’m not sure how literal that picture is meant to be read), that happens. Those who are unrepentant receive their punishment (if God determines it is instantaneous, or prolonged, I trust his judgment), ultimately resulting in the cessation of their being. Permanent annihilation, oblivion, whatever. Those in Jesus receive the gift of immortality, inclusion in the kingdom, the life of the age to come, and set to work in the new heavens and earth.

    The finer details I am agnostic to, but these broader points are what I believe Scripture teaches, whether implicitly or explicitly.

  • Paul W

    I like seeing these discussions even if they get kind of slippery once the nuanced disagreements start happening. I, for one, am only capable of addressing the questions ask at the level of personal presuppositions.

    I simply do not believe we experience anything here-and-now that is not connected to our fully and extensively embodied life. So to use the language suggested above I tend to think of people as“ensouled bodies” rather than bodies which have a soul. What is meant by the term soul (all due respect to lexicons notwithstanding) is difficult to nail down. I, however, tend to use the terms ‘soul’ and ‘life’ as broadly synonymous.

    Now to take back what I just gave with the other hand.

    Not only do I think of the soul as ‘life’ but I also think of death not simply as the body ceasing to function but (if I may use analogical/metaphorical language) as its life departing from it. And if life can depart from a body then perhaps it can also– in a way that is not ordinarily experienced on earth– be with God in an un-embodied/disembodied way.

  • I am happy to agree with the well-argued comments 1 and 2 above.

    I would only add that argument 1 (If God is spirit, or if God is non-bodied, then relationship to God is diminished if there is no soul) is an important statement. To me it seems that an eternal spiritual relationship with the creator of the universe is a pretty awesome prospect. But looking for evidence is surely futile. Spiritual things cannot be investigated scientifically because science holds a dialogue with the physical world of matter and energy.

    My own opinion (not based on evidence!) is that we will become part of the relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. We are, after all, in some real sense anlready ‘in Christ’ and he in us. What does this mean if not that we are to be included in their oneness in some unimaginable way? I do not think we are to be eternal spectators. We are the Bride, a living temple, children of the King.

    Speculation can’t prepare us for what lies ahead, but it’s fun anyway.

  • DRT

    Of course we will never know the answer, but how about this thought.

    Clearly our ability to augment the body is building, and it is easily conceivable that we can, one day, start to replace a neuron or a cell at a time in the body with an artificial mechanism. At some point do we no longer exist? Or do we become immortal at that point if all parts don’t die? etc.

  • phil_style

    @DRT, great question.
    This kind of though experiment could lead us, eventually to the position where an entire persons memory and “personality” is transferred to a new “container” (a body) that is entirely mechanical, or at least artificial but still biological. Where is the “soul” in all of this?
    What if that personality and memory could be replicated in two distinct locations?

    I’ve always, even since a child, tried to understand what part of the this “soul” is supposed to be. Is it my mind? If that’s the case, my mind is only intermittent anyway, experiencing long periods of low to zero conscious activity.

  • DRT

    1. If God is spirit, or if God is non-bodied, then relationship to God is diminished if there is no soul.

    This strikes me as egocentric. Of course god is more and different than us and we cannot fully become like god.

    2. If God is spirit, and if God is mind, then mind/spirit/soul can exist without a body.

    I believe that god is so radically different from us that we cannot comprehend what he is like. Who says we become like god from a physical sense? Again, this is egocentric.

    3. Some of the NT texts seem easier to read as disembodied consciousness and connection to God.


    4. Death would have to be a temporary form of annihilation.

    OK. But this does not lead to a refutation of the premise.

  • DRT

    phil_style, my oldest son (19 studying computer engineering) feels he just missed out on eternal life of this type. Perhaps in another couple generations this will no longer be science fiction.

  • DRT

    phil_style (I hope this is not going to far afield), ever since seeing Sleeper by Woody Allen (he’s got the nose under his mask!) when I was young I have been fascinated by the cloning idea. If someone is cloned, do they live forever? Clearly the answer is no since the original does not share the consciousness of the clone. But, the slow replication, or as you say, re-creation and perhaps a slow split in two locations is fascinating to think about.

  • gingoro

    Since soul is being discussed does anyone have any idea as to what “Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” means? In many ways the words soul and spirit seem synonymous so I just don’t understand.

  • phil_style

    @Gingoro #9, I suspect that the text you quote is not an anatomy lesson on the divisible parts of the human, but merely a poetic form of saying – “it gets right down to the core of our being”.

  • phil_style

    @DRT, liking your thoughts and ideas.
    One thing that has always struck me as odd, in these discussion about what constitutes the “core” or the “soul” or “essence” of a human person is the often absence of real-world

    Most people, when describing their “soul” wind up referring to a combination of their personality (tastes, preferences and behavioral traits) , their memories (relational links, historical events etc) and their emotions (propensity to feel certain things). We have examples from neuroscience where each of these things can be turned on and off by manipulating the physical parts of the brain.

    Famous cases like Phineas Gage and Henry Molaison come to mind. How do we account for non-physical “souls” when people like this are around?

    I think your response to Matthew Levering’s four potential objections is good. I also just don’t see those objections as being very strong at all….

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    My understanding of the ancient Christian mystical tradition is it’s all about God’s union with the soul. This is the very heart for Christian discipleship. Now we live in the world where Christian discipleship is greatly lacking in the church and a few of its theologians are even calling into question the soul.

  • Tim

    I Love how Tom Wright works through this dilemma. He compares life, death, resurrection to a computer. He says something to the affect that when our hardware crashes God will run our software on his hardware until he prepares for us a new eternal hardware that we will receive at Christ’s return. While I do not agree with “soul sleep” I do have sympathy with this view. The Jewish and Christian eschatological goal for the individual is not a disembodied existence in the by-and-by, but a new, embodied life in a world re-created by God without sin, death, decay and evil. We need to emphasize that the posture of souls in heaven, at least in Revelation 6, is a posture of prayer and intercession – “how much longer, O Lord?”

  • I see an increasing number of “SBNR” people who are not much interested in speculating on the metaphysical by and by. They are too busy being the hands of feet of Jesus in the here and now.

  • Percival

    Except for the brain and especially the cerebral cortex, our cells are replaced regularly. For these people, does this mean I am a different person when cells are replaced? Or, does it mean that I am my brain and not the rest of me? Or, am I my DNA code?

  • phil_style

    does this mean I am a different person when cells are replaced
    This depends entirely on whether or not the information stored in those cells and enabled by the pathways the neurons create is replicated. How much fidelity is required in the replication of an object or a network in order for it to remain the same in identity? Does replication in time, but not in space, mean something different from replication in space, but not in time?

    If the left arm of the Statue of David were replaced by an exact copy made from similarly quarried stone and attached with seamless appearance, would the work of art remain the same?

  • Phil Miller

    I read Joel Green’s book mentioned above a few years ago, and while I think he makes some very good points, I don’t know that it’s compelling enough to make one leave the traditional Christian teaching (by traditional, I’m thinking of the position that someone like N.T. Wright espouses). If we take an entirely materialistic view of our bodies and souls (or lack thereof), it seems to lead to some dangerous places. I don’t like slippery slope arguments, but I think that in this case, the slope could get pretty slippery. What about people who have a severely limited bodily existence – those who are paraplegics or otherwise constrained? Does have a body that’s not functioning the way it ought make these people less than fully human?

    Or on the other side of the coin. What about those with profound mental illnesses or developmental disorders? Are these conditions preventing them from interacting with God in fullness.

    I guess my point is that the only way I can fully account for these types of things is believing that God works in and through people in a way that is simply beyond our scientific understanding. That’s not to say that God isn’t active in the natural world and in our natural bodies. He certainly is. But He is active in a way that goes beyond that we can observe. I don’t like to think of it in a dualistic sense, but rather in a holistic sense. God is wholly involved in and outside of the known universe.

  • Paul D.

    “4. Death would have to be a temporary form of annihilation.”
    “temporary annihilation” is an oxymoron – but it’s a provocative statement. Is this Levering’s phrase or your summary, Scot? I’d like to see how it is filled in.

  • Adam

    Can soul also refer to a kind of anti-determinism? Meaning animals are deterministic beings and have no capacity for true freedom, but humans are not deterministic. They have something which lets them choose differently than the environment would enforce. Could this be the soul and the breath of life as mentioned in Genesis?

  • Dawne Piotrowski

    This is a fascinating topic! I took a course on this at TEDS last spring and was intrigued by Christian Smith’s thesis in his book “What Is a Person?” Smith is coming from a sociological perspective and lays out a case for emergent dualism. He rejects Cartesian dualism (a strict soul/body split) and prefers something more like an Aristotelian approach: “soul is the initial and primordial life-organizing and constituting principle that defines, sustains, and directs the temporal unfolding and developing of parts and selves” (p. 22).

    I think it is interesting to look at the person of Jesus in trying to understand how “soul” and “body” relate. The early church councils combatted heresies and affirmed our understanding of the God-man, that Jesus is fully God and fully man, united in one person. He was not God (Spirit) simply residing in a human “container,” nor was he a man who had a special filling of Spirit unlike other men. He was both God and man, fully and equally united in one. Our soul and body are likewise united – a unity in duality. Not sure what this means at the time of physical death (soul sleep or some kind of conscious existence), but it does mean that our physical bodies are extremely important, contra a Cartesian understanding which elevates the soul/mind over the physical body. We are embodied souls, or ensouled bodies, and our embodied life is just as important to God as our spiritual life. The two cannot be separated.

  • John I.

    I see comparisons of computers + software to people as very limited; limited to the point of being lame. Even with software, computers are not alive, nor are they functional in relevant comparitive sense. Moreover, they are a merely human creation, a “sub-creation”.

    It is possible to imagine something like replacing organic neurons with something constructed, but imagining something inherently carries a wide range of assumptions. I don’t believe that the assumptions made when imagining the possibility of a constructed brain replacement are possible given the physics of this universe. Some may disagree, but their disagreement is based on a promissory optimism that I do not believe is warranted.

    If someone wants to pursue the science and invention of a constructed brain, go right ahead. However, I fail to see how a speculative imagining of that sort is relevant to a discussion of whether we have souls. No machine currently has a soul, no such machine could be constructed based on anything we know, and based on what we do know it is very unlikely that one could be. May as well hypothesize about how many angels dance on the head of a pin as a way of helping us to conceptualize the soul, or spirit, or breath of God.


  • Tim Atwater

    I like Dawne’s (#20) whole second paragraph.
    I have a lot of respect for Joel Green, whose Luke commentary is one of the best, and whose short books on salvation and reading scripture are very good… And i haven’t read this book by him —
    but sounds like he is probably missing the translator’s eternal caution — to be aware and wary of changing meanings of words, and words whose meanings simply carry too much history to be swiftly changed… both/and.
    I came of age in the sixties, unchurched, and the soul music genre was a big influence, i now believe, in my coming to Jesus…
    (the rabbis of old believed all good music is from God… even if adjustments in word and/or phrasing etc need to be made)
    Like the angels going up and down the ladder on Jacob and on Jesus… (like Sam Cooke going down the ladder from gospel to pop… though hopefully reascending after death…? …like (Rev and sometimes also pre-rev) Al Green singing to the Lord a new song ascendent…) the concept of soul is too large and too embedded (and embodied) in our faith history to go away… though soul, the concept, may go up and down the ladder… it aint’ going away…

    blessings, all

  • I get the arguments (I think) that Green makes, but it just doesn’t compute to me that when Paul says he wants to be absent from the body and present with the Lord it could mean anything other than the “traditional” view. I think the hardware/software arguments are helpful from the standpoint that they distinguish the “equipment” from the user of the equipment.

  • Jeremy

    I’m not sure what to think on this one. There’s lots of “eternal life as a gift” language in the NT. I do sometimes wonder how much of the language in the NT is a result of the highly Hellenistic period it was written in though. As I understand it, Body and Soul duality was a very Greek concept. Like DRT noted, the 4 “arguments” seem extremely egocentric. As created beings, they seem odd, unsupportable assertions with regards to the limitations of our creator. They’re unconvincing at best.

  • Marshall

    The “body” is an arrangement of molecules (or atoms or quantum fields … pick your favorite physicalist level of description). We can think of the arrangement, a description of how the elements are interrelated, as an entity in its own right which exists beyond the destruction of the physical object that it describes. The description is already eternally present within the omniscience of God. It would be nothing special for the Creator to create a “new” arrangement of elements directly from the description. It is beyond present human knowledge how “life” or consciousness inheres in our physical being, but it is at least possible that it arises out of the astronomical complexity of so many, many interacting moving parts. No less a God-given gift if so, IMO.

    It would also be nothing special for an infinitely intelligent God to “predict” or “simulate” how the embodiment of such a description would behave without actually performing the experiment. It’s beyond me to understand whether or how a simulation would have the self-conscious life we have now, but then I already don’t understand myself.

    So of course we are “ensouled bodies” in at least this non-dualistic sense. Whether there is more I don’t know, but it seems to me that here we have a good example of how naturalism and theology can inform each other, given a little open-minded creative thinking that assumes that all things work together in God.

  • John

    @Jeremy +1

    Hellenistic. Unsupportable assertions. Me centric.

    We seem to have a lot of free time.

    Our very best theories are, in the end, dust.

    If we really want to know the nature of soul, may I suggest starting with love, sustaining with love, and finishing with love.

  • Some thoughts (not arguments, just stuff that comes to mind)

    -humanity has never existed, in Scripture, as disembodied. Even the appearances give a physical representation of some kind. Being human implies a physicality.

    -humanity is not just the physical, we can perceive and connect in a complex way–which is good for those with physical impairments–they’re not defined by their body.

    -The idea that lacking a soul would impeded God’s connection as Spirit to us equates soul and spirit, I’m not sure this should be done. God, of course, did not see physicality as a barrier to communion. There’s the whole Jesus story–and that includes a physical resurrection, albeit a new kind of physicality.

    -When we talk about the bond of life between God and creation, we can talk not about souls with souls, but with the Spirit of God being the life-giver to all, thus we are all partakers in the Spirit by the very nature of being alive, so our unity with God comes through our participation in and with the Spirit. The Spirit leaves, we’re just dust. (Moltmann and Pannenberg et al. following an understanding of ruach in Genesis).

    –Murphy and Green are operating with a more advanced understanding of neuroscience and biology than Aquinas. Philosophical conceptions are great and all, but our understanding of the human self has advanced in many ways since then, so this should be accounted for, otherwise Christian theology really is insisting on a fundamental gap between faith and science. But if God is creator, such a gap may be apparent but it shouldn’t be inherent.

    –the idea of the soul is a convenient way of saying our being, our identity–but while a helpful concept it may not be literally true. Much of our discussions of God and Christ in eternity use helpful concepts that aren’t literally true.

  • CarolJean

    I wonder what Paul meant in 2 Cor 12:3 by “- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows – “?

  • Fascinating. I have no idea where I fall on this spectrum, but given I have learned to despise the type of Platonic dualism that elevates the non-material part over the material (if they are indeed separate parts) I think that whatever happens in terms of the saints who have died having “gone to sleep” must be said to be something less than a fully human existence, though not outside of God’s plan. I read Genesis 1 as a story of God, in a way at least, “embodying” himself- creating a place to live that matches his character. I then see Paul in 2 Cor referring to our “tents” (dwelling places) that are passing away as maybe a kind of human parallel to this “dwelling” of God in Creation.

    It also brings to my mind the eschatological question too- is “now” for a dead person really any different than the moment of resurrection? One of the signs recorded in Matthew when Christ was crucified was that “many bodies of the saints who were sleeping arose.” I have no idea what to think of that passage, except to assert that Jesus’ death is life-giving. But I’m prone to taking Paul’s language of having “died with Christ” and “risen with Christ” as being fairly literal. Meaning, incredibly, that my death actually took place before my birth. And that my resurrection, while to be experienced in my future, is hidden with Christ’s own Resurrection, which is past.

    That would condition the “what’s going on now?” question, as far as the dead are concerned, by something like a “tesseract” if you’re familiar with A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle. An concept of the fluidity of time that doesn’t actually require that cause-effect relationships be confined to a certain chronological order, and that the mind of God really stands above and outside it all, “keeping” everything. So the time when we experience a loved one being dead is actually a “time” that coincides with the actual time of the death of Christ for them, meaning that the next moment for that deceased person is not a period of x-thousand years until “glory” or “re-embodiment,” but the moment of Christ’s own Resurrection, and then Ascension with all the saints(Eph 4:7-8). This (ascension to heaven) being outside the human continuum of time, there’s no question of “what’s happening now” from our perspective, because “now” for the ascended-with-Christ believer is shrunk to an instantaneous leap from Christ’s vindication in our past to the whole church’s in our future. Our death and resurrection are condensed into the experience of Christ’s own death and resurrection, not, as we see it, spread out over an indeterminate “sleep” for the rest of human history until the second coming.


    I think what I just did was try to use the language of the New Testament to question the way we experience the chronology of our own human existence. I’ve never tried to express this in words before, and it may have just gotten really whacky…bear with me please 🙂

  • Tom F.

    1. God as spirit…less relationship if we are not spirit.

    Why? Even if God is spirit, and we are spirit, it seems clear that our spirits would not be made of the same stuff as God’s spirit. So the problem is the same: how do we as created brings relate to a transcendent God who is different than us.

    2. Mind is possible without a body, since God has no body.

    True, but God is traditionally understood to have a substance. (for example, in the Trinitarian debates). I would contend that we have no examples of insubstantial minds. So God might be understood to be an enspirited mind, and we would be embodied minds.

    Also, seems to be an assumption that physicalists contend that spirited minds are theoretically impossible. I wouldn’t say that; especially with God. It just seems that we happen to be physical rather than spiritual (in the essence of our being-in relation to God we are spiritual).

    3. Some texts are easier to read…

    Maybe. Maybe others are harder to read in a dualist sense. Joel Green, who is hardly a slouch in exegesis, believes that the best way to read the texts in question is physicalist. Probably would have to go through verse by verse here.

    4. Death as temporary annihilation.

    I disagree. If time is fixed, perhaps. But if we think of time as as 4th dimension, than the person simply directly moves from death to the resurrection. From our perspective, the person doesn’t exist “right now”. But from the dead persons perspective, they could experience complete continuity.

    This is complicated, but time is much more fluid than we tend to think. For example, for a ray of light, time does not pass from its perspective.

    Another way is to draw time as a curve rather than a straight line. A person at death could then simply “shortcut” from one point on the curve to another. Their continuity is assured, but from the perspective of those in normal time, they do not exist at that point on the curve, at that “point” in time.

  • What if ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ isn’t a static object but a dynamic process? Perhaps the mind/spirit is something the brain does rather than something it has?

  • I disagree that death, necessarily, must be a temporary form of annihilationism.

    Time stops for the dead. Just as during sleep you are unaware of time passing, at death time ceases for us. The living are aware that Aunt Tillie is dead to time, but she is not. For the living, there is a time span between death and eternity; not so for the dead.

    Therefore, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord is the experienced reality for the dead.

    Therefore, there need be no intermediate state at all, whether conscious, annihilationist or otherwise.

  • It has been thoroughly documented that the idea of immortal souls crept into the Christian Church with the Apologists, and that the notion of indestructible “souls” led directly to the widespread and now long-held doctrine of hell as unending conscious torment. The question now before us is whether we who understand the falsity of immortal souls (other than for the redeemed, as holistic. deathless, resurrected, beings by God’s gift of grace) will remember the connection of that doctrine with eternal torment–and toss that unbiblical and God-dishonoring doctrine into the trash bin where it also belongs.
    [Scot, may I mention The Fire That Consumes (Cascade/Wipf & Stock, 3rd edition, 2011) with foreword by Richard Bauckham, or the new 2012 “popular” release titled Hell–A Final Word (Leafwood/ACU Press 2012) , both my books, for further study? If not, would you mention them please?]

  • aaron

    I think it’s important to also realize that we must not think in such a dualistic manner wherein there is a huge dichotomy between body/soul and so forth. I’m not sure we can really separate them aside from purely discussion points.

    We like to address topics like this using definitive statements that separate everything as black/white when it cannot be done. We, as a being, are ‘one’ or holistic. It can be helpful to discuss the parts and differentiate between the functions of these parts to bring greater definition, but ultimately I don’t think they can be separated.

    We are not a “body with a soul” nor are we “ensouled bodies”. We are one whole being – these attributes aren’t at war with each other.

  • Mark E. Smith

    It would have been helpful in the post if you would have explained why they believe he way they do.

  • RJS

    Mark (#35),

    We have not looked at anything By Nancey Murphy, but there have been series on both Joel Green’s book (Series is Being Human) and on Kevin Corcoran’s book (Series is Science Body Soul). These give some explanation for what they think and why.

  • Kenny Johnson

    I think I’m definitely a dualist. For me, the purely materialistic view seems… well sad. It suggests that all “I” am is chemical reactions, that “I” am my brain. That what I think of as “me” is really an illusion. Perhaps there’s another way of thinking about it, but that’s how I think of a purely material existence.

    I’m not sure I know what the soul or self is, but I assume it’s something that is interconnected with my physical being. That “I” am both my physical body and some kind of spiritual existence (call it the breath of life or whatever you want) and these parts of me co-exist to make me whole.

    I could be wrong, but I’ll be honest… I don’t like the alternative.

  • phil_style

    Ray, @#31 ” Perhaps the mind/spirit is something the brain does rather than something it has?”

    I agree with this way of approaching the relationship. The mid/ spirit being an emergent property/system of the brain, like a network complexity. Does this mind / spirit have downward causality though? Now we’re into interesting scientific territory that might be hard to test. I know there are some famous tests which indicate that causality might be bottom-up only… but other I’ve read have questioned the universality of those findings with respect to the entire mind/brain network.

    Now, (and I realize this extra metaphysical level of speculation might be unnecessary for you) for those who would posit that “God” has a “mind”, do we need to postulate also a body/brain or some kind of lower-level system from which that mind can emerge?…

  • Norman

    This is an illogical discussion to a degree. It’s like speculating on what’s on the other side of the Universe; if there is another side of the universe. We are in no position to know at this point in time.

    If our hope in the resurrected Christ is misplaced and it was all just an illusion then perhaps we are most to be pitied. I assume since over 500 viewed the risen Christ that the physical bodily Christ is doing ok somewhere in the heavenlies at this very moment. I expect to go where He is upon my own physical demise through faith in God/Christ.

    1Co 15:13-14 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is worthless, and your faith is also worthless.

    That’s a pretty blunt assessment by Paul don’t you think?

    I’m a science type of guy but I’ll leave the metaphysics to the Star Trekkers out there to figure out. 😉

  • I have a science and computer background, and have been thinking about this question occasionally, recently. I have a couple of comments:

    I like the computer backup analogy. If God is going to give us new bodies, then presumably this is in some sense like reprinting a book (only in a rather nicer binding) from a backup in the cloud. If our soul/spirit is ‘merely’ a function/description of our consciousness, personality and memories laid down as genes, neurons and brain memory systems, then reconstructing an improved body with memory, personality, but without being the me-centered nightmares we currently are, is a restoration from God’s memory of both body and soul.

    You get a reflection of this at the moving end of the movie AI, where the advanced loving extra-terrestrials manage to recreate, though only for a short time, David’s mother out of his memories and her DNA.



  • Kenny Johnson –

    It suggests that all “I” am is chemical reactions… Perhaps there’s another way of thinking about it

    There is.

  • Mark Edwards in the first comment gets off to a running start. I agree that the body (dust) plus the spirit (breath of God) make up a soul. We ARE living souls. what does God say to Adam and Eve? the SOUL that sinneth shall die. So the soul dies when the body dies and the spirit (breath) is returned to God who gave it. Unfortunately thats as far as Mark gets. The bible shows us that Death is “like sleep”. throughout the entire OT and well into the NT death is described as ‘sleep’. The body returns to dust, the spirit(breath) returns to God, and that is that…until the Glorious Resurrection when Christ comes back to claim those He has chosen and made a promise to, a promise that is held through the Holy Spirit IN US. there is no one in heaven, and there will never be anyone in heaven. What?? No he didn’t! yeah I did..Revelation clearly says that God will bring His kingdom to us and create a new heaven and a new earth.

    This is NOT a new line of thinking as the author states. This is what scripture teaches. the four verses that the author quoted are misleading. (1) God is the only one that can destroy both body and soul. I believe in this verse ‘soul’ is interpreted ‘life’. (2) Luke 16 is obviously a parable: a fictional account used by Jesus to confuse the masses. The spiritual meaning behind it MUST be discerned through the Holy Spirit. (3) Jesus did not go to paradise ‘today’, but laid in the grave for 3 nights and 3 days, so obviously he didn’t mean the thief was going to paradise ‘that very day’. (4) Paul is saying that he would prefer to be with God than in this mortal, corrupted body. He was not arguing that when you die you go to heaven.

    The author of this article also argued that ” If God is spirit, or if God is non-bodied, then relationship to God is diminished if there is no soul.” I would say according to scriptures that there is no relationship with God unless we have HIS Spirit. We are mortal first, Paul makes this very clear. He gives us his Spirit when he draws us to Himself.

    I am glad this topic was discussed because I think that it is time for the church to wake up and re-learn the doctrines of Christ.

  • Chris

    I have a different form of this question. It moves around this discussion like the whispering of an invisible elephant, but very definitely in the room. Those who think the biblical language, or even the purposeful narratives within which the terms are used are intended as some sort of pathology might not enjoy it.

    I was born in March 1951. Where, what, who, how was I in, say, May 1950 or for all time prior to that point of conception? Do this with your own birthdate. Feel it.

    Now, whatever sentience and whenever consciousness truly begins (nobody remembers their birth), why do we think that our prebirth state should be fundamentally different from our post mortem state? And how do you feel about this question?

  • george

    Let me clarify outright that I’m open to the non-dualistic view. I’ve also read some of Green’s works. Nevertheless, I’m offering something from a different perspective: experience. First, I have known persons who had clear dis-embodied experiences such as out of body travels, both Christians and non-Christians. It will be too long to explain or go into the details but from what they told me, I believe what they described and explained were genuine and true. If so, what was “IT” that left the body if not soul or spirit?

    Second, do we believe that today there are still personal evils such as demons as clearly mentioned in the gospels and in Acts? They are dis-embodied persons that would try to take possession (or at least occupy) physical bodies. As someone who have been involved for over 14 years in the prayer ministry that has to deal with witchcraft and occult, I can assure you that these are real in our Asian culture. The fact that there are disembodied spirits/persons that try to occupy other physical bodies seems to me to possibly suggest at least one thing. If there are beings apart from God that have a spiritual or non-body/physical existence, might it be possible that humans can also exist without a body? I don’t seem to see a necessity that humans must have an embodied existence.

    Just some thoughts and hope to have some comments and response.

  • DRT (4) writes – Clearly our ability to augment the body is building, and it is easily conceivable that we can, one day, start to replace a neuron or a cell at a time in the body with an artificial mechanism. At some point do we no longer exist? Or do we become immortal at that point if all parts don’t die? etc.

    ‘Immortal’ is a rather tricky word. There’s a significant difference between existing in time and existing out of time. If immortal simply means an unending physical life then there will come a time when the universe runs down and the bundles of energy we call particles are too far apart for complexity to continue. There will then no means of sustaining physical forms of life.

    Time is part of the universe, so time itself was created and will pass away. Immortality in the sense that the Almighty Creator is immortal is therefore outside of space and time. As I see it, if we live in Christ and he in us we have immortality in this second sense, something quite different from the thought experiment of merely replacing broken parts.

  • DRT

    Chris Jefferies, you are right.

    As I have gotten older (50 now) I realize that there are only two things that actually mean anything to me, god and people. I can be temporarily satiated by many other things, but they ring increasingly hollow. I can’t help but thing I would rather die and take my chances on being with god in some form (heaven or the resurrection) rather than trapped in a new kind of hell.