Both Body and Soul (RJS)

Both Body and Soul (RJS) December 12, 2013

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

The Greek word ψυχὴν, psyche, translated soul in this verse, has meanings that range from life spirit of animals to the center of the inner life of man, that is feelings and emotions, to the seat and center of life that transcends the earthly. As this verse contrast destruction of the body with destruction of both body and soul in hell (i.e. γεέννῃ, Gehenna) it points to a seat and center of life that transcends the earthly.  But what, exactly, is this “soul.” Many find this a key question raised by modern neuroscience. And it is the question addressed by Chapter 7 of Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods: A Conversation on Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience by Malcolm Jeeves.

Ben poses the question which I will shorten a bit:

[Y]ou repeatedly referred to our “psychobiological unity.” … does it have implications for a scriptural understanding of humanity? I’ve always understood that a dominant biblical theme is that we are unique because, according to Genesis, we alone possess an immortal soul. (p. 72)

Jeeves answers the question and Ben’s follow up questions in a few different ways.

First, he explores the meaning of “image of God” in Genesis 1:27.(p. 73)

Some will interpret this as claiming that “since God is a spiritual being, he endowed us also with spirituality, giving us an immortal soul.”  This is one common way that image of God has been interpreted.

Others have interpreted image of God as relating to the fact that we alone can reason (although we have to sit back and define reason). Augustine, Aquinas and Luther fall in this category.

Some attach it to distinctive physical characteristics.  (bipedalism as an example).

It can be related to functionality. “In this sense the image of God is not what we are but what we are called to do.” Tom Wright and Anthony Thisleton are given as examples here.

Finally it can be related to our “capacity for a relationship with God and with other creatures.”

Second, he questions whether the passage in Genesis 2:7 does refer to some kind of a supernatural soul. While the King James version translated 2:7 “man became a living soul,” modern translations like the NIV translate it “the man became a living being.” The HCSB also has “living being” while the ESV has “living creature.” The consensus is that this is not really different from the life given to the animals and doesn’t distinguish Adam from the animals.

Third, after some more discussion of the Old Testament concepts translated “soul”, especially in the Psalms, the conversations turns to the New Testament – and perhaps this is the more important perspective.

When introducing the subject, before digging into the OT passages, Jeeves noted that it is an oversimplification to draw a line between Hebrew thought and Greek thought as though the first recognized a unified body-soul and the second a dualism of separate body and soul.

This is because Greek thought was much more varied that you would suppose from readings focused solely on Plato … As one scholar in this area put it, “There was no singular conception of the soul among Greeks, and the body-soul relationship was variously assessed among philosophers and physicians in the Hellenistic period.”

The relationship between Hellenism and Judaism in the centuries after Alexander the Great in the near East in the last half of the fourth century before Christ was a complex one. The result was that the environment in which the New Testament took shape provided for the presence of a variety of views both within Roman Hellenism and within Hellenistic Judaism.  (p. 74)

The New Testament, as we see from the verse at the top of this post, appears to view a human as consisting of two components: body and soul (some will make it three and add spirit). Jeeves refers to 1 Corinthians 15 as another example that distinguishes body and soul.  But we need to be careful not to think that every use of the word psyche refers to one half of a dual nature of humans. Modern translations are steering away from the King James tendency to translate the word as soul, and using terms like living being, or emphasizing self-reference as in Luke 12:19. In this verse the Greek has “and I will say to my psyche, psyche you have …”. The KJV had soul for psyche here, but modern translations translate this “I’ll say to myself, You have …”.  Translation choices have provided an inappropriate lens into the text at times.

Fourth, he describes his view. Jeeves takes a view something like the “Non-Reductive Physicalism” described by Nancey Murphy in In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem (a book I may have to pick up). Jeeves doesn’t like her term though.

If we must have labels put on us, I prefer to call my view dual-aspect monism, as I’ve mentioned before. By this I mean that there is only one reality to be understood and explained – this is what I would call the “mind-brain unity,” hence the word monism. By saying “dual-aspect,” I am affirming that in order to do full justice to the nature of this reality we need to give at least two accounts of it: an account in terms of its physical makeup and an account in terms of our mental or cognitive abilities. (p. 85)

The term physicalism, in his view, runs the risk of reductionism with the mind ‘”nothing but” the chattering of the cells of the brain”

Turning back to the verse with which I opened this post. This verse need not be taken as affirming a separation of body and soul, especially in the light of our understanding of bodily resurrection. We are not souls that happen to inhabit material bodies, but persons who have both body and soul. It is the whole person that is enjoying new life in Christ and the whole person, body-soul, that will be raised in Christ. All the earthly authorities can do is to hasten death – they cannot destroy the whole person. Any destruction of the whole person is the purview of God alone, left to the final judgment. This we should fear.

How do you view body and soul?

Do you think that body and soul are separate? That the soul is the “real” us?

Does neuroscience endanger the concept of soul?

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