“It is important to see how different the New Testament anthropology is from that of the Greeks. Body and soul are both originally good in so far as they are created by God” Oscar Cullmann

The Platonists believed in a concept called “immortality of the soul.” For Plato, a man is his soul. He used the term immortality in the sense that the soul is eternal. This means that the soul was never created. In other words, it has always existed and will always exist. In this view, at some point in the past, the human soul fell from the ideal world of spirits and, as punishment, was imprisoned in a body in the physical world.[2] This explains why the Platonic expression “soma sema” (body tomb) is well-known.[3]

Since the human soul, the true man, is imprisoned in the body, the goal of life is to be delivered from it through death. Death within Platonism was seen as a release.[4] For example, when reporting the death of Socrates, Plato showed how he faced it with confidence, peace, and serenity, because his death was his release of the body that imprisoned him.[5] Epictetus was ashamed to have a body and called himself a “poor soul shackled to a corpse.” [6]

According to the Greeks, the body and the soul are two radically different entities and belong to different worlds.[7] This concept entered Christianity, and some began to see salvation as the release of the body.[8] The physical body has been neglected by Christian theology because what really matters is the soul. This vision began to be confused with Christian orthodoxy.[9] Alister McGrath said that some Christians have had the wrong idea about human nature because of “assumptions of Platonic inspiration, especially the Platonic doctrine of the immortality of the soul.”[10]

In Platonism, the soul of man has always existed and will always exist. According to the Bible, the soul of man was created by God and will always exist in a contingency state (for example, consider the necessity of the Tree of Life).

Another difference between Christianity and Platonism is that in Platonism immortality applies only to the soul, while in Christianity it also applies to the body. Theologian Stanley Grenz observes it precisely:

“In the biblical view, in contrast, immortality is not limited to the immaterial part of the human person, but extends beyond the soul to include the body. And this immortality is not the possession of the soul; it does not belong intrinsically to the immaterial part. On the contrary, immortality is the goal of the entire human person”[11]

Since biblical immortality extends to the material body[12], another biblical concept emerges: the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body. The Bible teaches us that our physical bodies will be resurrected gloriously. We will have the same bodies as in this life, but without the consequences and weaknesses of sin. As the resurrected body of Jesus was material, having flesh and bones, our bodies in the resurrection will also be material. This shows the incompatibility of Platonic thought with the doctrine of the resurrection:

The Greek doctrine of immortality and the Christian hope in the resurrection differ so radically because Greek thought has such an entirely different interpretation of creation. The Jewish and Christian interpretation of creation excludes the whole Greek dualism of body and soul. For indeed the visible, the corporeal, is just as truly God’s creation as the visible. God is the maker of the body. The body is not the soul’s prison, but rather a temple, as Paul says (I Corinthians 6:19): the temple of the Holy Spirit! The basic distinction lies here. Body and soul are not opposites. God finds the corporeal ‘good’ after He has created it.[13]

It is important to note that, in the Bible, the true self of man is not his soul. Man is a unit composed of body and soul. That is, human nature is a unit composed of one material and visible part and one immaterial and invisible part.[14] This means that the physical nature of man (i.e., his body) is not an aberration to or in opposition with his original creation. On the contrary, the physical part of man is part of his essence and nature. This is how God created mankind, even before the fall and sin. In the Bible, the human being is seen as incomplete without a body. Furthermore, man is only complete with a body and soul/spirit. Randy Alcorn made an important point about this:

“Unlike God and the angels, who are in essence spirits (John 4:24; Hebrews 1:14), human beings are by nature both spiritual and physical (Genesis 2:7). God did not create Adam as a spirit and place it inside a body. Rather, he first created a body, then breathed into it a spirit. There never was a moment when a human being existed without a body.”[15]

Adam became a living soul when God joined his body (dust) and his spirit (breath). Adam was not a living human being until he had both immaterial (spiritual) and material (physical) components. Thus, the essence of humanity is not only his soul, but also the soul united to the body. Our body does not host our true self, but rather it composes our true self.[16] Dr. Edward Donnely explains:

“Man is not his soul. The dust of the earth and the breath of life were put together to form who we are. When God sent His Son to die for us, it was for our bodies but also for our souls. Jesus Christ came to redeem not only the “breath of life” but also the “dust of the ground.”[17]

Our conceptualization of anthropology creates a direct impact on what we believe about heaven. Oscar Cullmann explains that the ideal condition of life for the Greeks was a separation of soul and body.[18] But the ideal condition of life for Christians is one in which the soul and body are united. That is why God’s purpose for us is not that we live for eternity as disembodied spirits in an immaterial heaven. Rather, our hope is the resurrection of the body, when our corruptible bodies will be transformed into incorruptible and glorified bodies. A. A. Hodge correctly said that in heaven “man will continue to exist as always composed of two natures, spiritual and material.” [19]

The only time that the human soul separates from the body is in the intermediate state. However, this state is not the ideal state of man, but an aberration caused by sin. The ideal state of man is the body’s union with the soul. [20] Therefore, the Bible says that, in the Intermediate State, the soul is in a “naked” condition while waiting to meet with the body (2 Corinthians 5.1-4).[21] Michael Horton explains it well:

“While the body and soul can be separated, they are not meant to be separated, and our salvation is not complete until we are bodily raised as whole persons (Ro 8:23). The intermediate state is not the final state. John Murray summarizes this consensus: “Man is bodily, and, therefore, the scriptural way of expressing this truth is not that man has a body but that man is body…. Scripture does not represent the soul or spirit of man as created first and then put into a body … The bodily is not an appendage.”[22]

One popular belief is that, in eternity, we will become angels. But the Christian ideal is not to become something we are not. Nancy Pearcey explains that, in the plan of redemption, God does not call us to be something other than human, but instead to recover our true humanity. This enables us to achieve the purpose for which we were originally created.[23] Life in heaven is a restoration of true humanity, not its destruction. It is a restoration of the physical body, not its abandonment. Being out of the body is not a better or more desirable state for Christians. Peter Kreeft explains this truth with precision:

“…our spirit needs a body for freedom, for free expression. A soul without a body is exactly the opposite of what Plato thought it is. It is not free but bound. It is in an extreme form of paralysis, like a person paralyzed in all five senses at once. God gave us senses to help us, not to hinder us. Insofar as they hinder or bind us, that is a result of the Fall, not of Creation, and the binding will be removed in Heaven.[24]

Job rejoiced because he would see God in his own body (John 19:26). We can also rejoice because we shall see God in our own glorified body and not as disembodied spirits, or with the body of another person. Our hope is a release in the body, but not the release of the body.[25]

Dr. Edward Welch, in the book “Blame it on the Brain,” refers to neuroscience, saying that human beings are created by God “as a unit of at least two substances: spirit and body.”[26] The Bible speaks clearly about the material and earthly nature of man:

“Man is earthy, from the earth. The very name, “Adam,” means “red (clay),” emphasizing this fact. All Gnostic notions of material creation as sinful, per se, therefore, must be rejected; God not only declared the material creation “very good,” but mad man from it (as the boy said, “God don’t make no junk”). [27]

The Platonic view of human nature can be compared with the biblical view in the following chart:

Platonism

 

Finally, let’s see what other authors have said about the theme:

 

“God made man body and soul—we consist of an inner man and an outer man (Gen. 2:7). Therefore our ultimate perfection demands that both body and soul be renewed. Even the creation of a new heaven and earth demands that we have bodies—a real earth calls for its inhabitants to have real bodies.” John Macarthur[28]

 

“Men and women were created from the beginning to be both material and immaterial simultaneously. Humans were not created as disembodied spirits seeking physical bodies to possess. Nor were they simply material beings. It is God’s design that humans possess this unity of material and immaterial. Yes, for a period, we will indeed be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). But it is more than just an interesting fact that one day we will receive new bodies, glorified bodies, transformed and resurrected bodies that we will have for eternity (Phil. 3:20–21; 1 Thess. 4:16–17). And why is that? It is because a body is an essential component of the creation of God we term “human.” God has not forgotten that fact and will reunite body and spirit into an immortal, inseparable, glorified compound that is the redeemed human being.”  Harry Shields and Gary J. Bredfeldt[29]

 

“…throughout church history, the vast majority of Christian thinkers have correctly understood the Scriptures to teach the following: (1) Human beings exhibit a holistic functional unity. (2) While a functional unity, humans are nevertheless a duality of immaterial soul/spirit and material body…”  J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig [30]

 

“The popular image of a shapeless Christian floating in some ethereal spiritual fog, moving from one cloud in the heavens to another, is due more to Greek dualist philosophy than to the biblical text. The people of God will spend eternity in a body, albeit a glorified and resurrected body, but not for that reason any less physical or material in nature.”  Sam Storm[31]

 

“The New Testament doctrine of the resurrection is an affirmation that we are a spiritual and physical unity and that God intends to put us back together again. Although the soul is separable from the body, such a separation is only temporary. If we are to live forever, we must be brought together as a united human being—body, soul, and spirit.”  Erwin Lutzer[32]

 


 

Notes:

[1] Oscar Cullmann. Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? Pg 16.

[2] Swindoll, C. R., & Zuck, R. B. Understanding Christian theology.  Pg 690

[3] Peter Kreeft. Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Heaven (Kindle Locations 999-1000).

[4] Oscar Cullmann. Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? Pg 8.

[5] Oscar Cullmann. Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? Pg 9. Also see: Georges Florovsky. Creation and Redemption. Pg 221

[6] Welch, Edward T. Blame it on the Brain. Pg 39

[7] Oscar Cullmann. Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? Pg 8.

[8] Alister E. McGrath. Teologia Sistemática, Histórica e Filosófica. Pg 643

[9] Peter Kreeft. Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Heaven (Kindle Locations 1018-1019).

[10] Alister E. McGrath. Teologia Sistemática, Histórica e Filosófica. Pg 643

[11] Stanley J. Grenz. Theology for the Community of God (Kindle Locations 2472-2475).

[12] Robert Culver. Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical. Pg 1061

[13] Oscar Cullmann. Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? Pg 14.

[14] Anthony Hoekema. Criados à Imagem de Deus. Pg 239

[15] Randy Alcorn . Heaven (Kindle Locations 1302-1305).

[16] Randy Alcorn . Heaven (Kindle Locations 2230-2234).

[17] Edward Donnely. Depois da Morte O Quê? Pg145

[18] Oscar Cullmann. Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? Pg 15.

[19] A. A. Hodge. Esboços de Teologia. Pg 809

[20] Michael Horton. The Christian Faith (Kindle Locations 10056-10058).

[21] Norman Geisler. Teologia Sitemática: vol 2. Pg 696

[22] Horton, Michael S. The Christian Faith (Kindle Locations 10059-10060).

[23] Nancy Pearcey. Total Truth (Kindle Location 2062).

[24] Peter Kreeft. Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Heaven (Kindle Locations 1111-1113).

[25] J. I. Packer. Teologia Concisa. Pg 70

[26] Welch, Edward T. Blame it on the Brain. Pg 15

[27] Jay Edward Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling. Pg 105

[28] MacArthur, J. . The glory of heaven: The truth about heaven, angels, and eternal life. Pg. 129

[29] Harry Shields and Gary J. Bredfeldt, Caring for Souls. Pg 80.

[30] Moreland, James Porter; William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.Pg 228

[31] Sam Storms. The Restoration of All Thing. Pg 12

[32] Lutzer, E. W. . One minute after you die: A preview of your final destination. Pg 72

 


Author: Leonardo Costa