Response to a Critic on the Nature of the Soul

by Matt DeStefano on June 5, 2011

Over at The Warfare is Mental , cl has responded to my previous post about the soul being im[material - fixed!].  Before delving into the the verses and issues he presents in defense of an immaterial soul, let me first deal with a smaller piece of his post:

“Is that true? If so, one would expect DeStefano to provide exegesis showing what the Bible actually teaches–right? Well, if that’s what you’re expecting, you’ll be disappointed. DeStefano doesn’t offer any original exegesis to support his claim.”

The last post was an attempt to dispel the notion that the Greek dualism present in modern Christianity is an biblical notion. While the analysis was certainly limited in Biblical exegesis, after surveying the opinion modern of Biblical scholars, it seemed that further discussion was not necessary. I felt my mission was to merely bring it to the attention of those who had not had the benefit of further study.  It seems an overwhelming majority of Biblical scholars agree with the lack of a dualism inherent in Scripture, and rather attribute it to a Greek influence. Let me briefly say that I generally don’t care to defend any particular view of the Bible (as the more discrepancies that exist within theology, the more clear it’s absurdity becomes), I’d like to show that my conclusion is warranted in response to cl.

Let’s see what evidence cl has to the contrary. He brings up my reluctance to treat the concept of spirit apart from soul, or humans as tripartite. Honestly, I didn’t treat this concept because I have never seen this position advocated before, although I think really that this distinction is not nearly as important as cl makes it out to be. As he says:

“It bothers me that DeStefano didn’t dedicate even a single word to the idea of spirit as delineated in the Bible. As I explain here, the Bible seems to teach that man is a tripartite being composed of body, soul and spirit. Soul is not treated as equivalent to spirit in the Bible, so to focus only on the word soul [nepesh] is to completely omit a very important part of the discussion.”

cl here makes an argument that Christian doctrine asserts man has not just two parts, but three parts. He says:

“The Bible makes a clear distinction between soul and spirit, and the biblical depiction of a human being is tripartite, not dualistic. Reasonable biblical exegesis does not permit the argument that humans are dualist entities.”

Dualism is the thesis that man is both material (body) and immaterial (soul).  He seems to agree with me that the Bible doesn’t support a dualist proposition (which seems odd, considering the content of his reply), but instead supports human beings as tripartite.  He argues that the soul is a fission between body and spirit, or “as the light needs both a conduit and an impetus to shine, a human needs both a body and spirit to have soul.”

This is really just dualism redux. He’s arguing that spirit and body are distinctive elements (presumably spirit is immaterial – while body is material), and that soul is what we call one that has both. This is still dualism, but merely giving the fission of the two elements a different moniker.

He brings up 2 Corinthians 12:1-5:

“Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.”

He says that Paul expresses agnosticism here in regards to the matter, and concludes “Further, if Paul was under the impression that being “out of the body” is impossible, why would he express agnosticism regarding this particular vision? Why would he even entertain the possibility?” However, I think cl wrongly attributes dualism as the underlying issue here. For, I can imagine myself to be at AT&T Ballpark watching the Giants, vividly imagining the sights, smells, tastes, etc. of the venue. Or, likewise, I can actually be physically present at AT&T Ballpark. I don’t need to presuppose an immaterial soul to have doubts of whether or not I was physically present at a given location.

His next verse is Matt 10:28 which cautions Christians on whose judgments to be concerned with: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Again, I think this verse fails to serve as an indictment to the monism we see apparent in the Bible.  God decides the eternal fate of mankind (has the ability to resurrect one to a physical rebirth), so he has the ability to ‘kill the soul’, while man can merely kill the body. No need to posit dualism in order to account for this verse.

I don’t want to get into the habit of discerning theology on this blog, but I think that a dualism is a Hellenistic (or Platonic) philosophy inscribed into Christian thought. I’ll close with a quote that brings to the table a litany of verses via Harper’s Bible Dictionary:

“In the NT, ‘soul’ retains its basic Hebrew field of meaning. Soul refers to one’s life: Herod sought Jesus’ soul (Matt. 2:20); one might save a soul or take it (Mark 3:4). Death occurs when God ‘requires your soul’ (Luke 12:20). ‘Soul’ may refer to the whole person, the self: ‘three thousand souls’ were converted in Acts 2:41 (see Acts 3:23). Although the Greek idea of an immortal soul different in kind from the mortal body is not evident, ‘soul’ denotes the existence of a person after death (see Luke 9:25; 12:4; 21:19); yet Greek influence may be found in 1 Peter’s remark about ‘the salvation of souls’ (1:9).”

Again, I don’t want to be in the business of deciphering which theology the Bible advocates, but it seems to me that the prominent view is that of monism. This presents a host of other difficulties, which I would like to flesh out in more detail in my next post.

  • jim

    It’s interesting that cl cites Paul, since he’s generally considered to have imported a lot of Hellenistic thought into Christianity.

  • cl

    In what way is that interesting to you, jim?

  • Pingback: What The Bible Really Says About The Soul, II « The Warfare Is Mental

  • cl

    You’re right! There is a lot of responding going on. I responded to this response, here. I’ll probably wait for your next post before I make another response, unless it’s just quick stuff in the comments.

    Just curious though: why’d you decide to tackle this topic? What, in your mind, are the ultimate ramifications if what you’re saying is true?

    • Matt DeStefano

      I have an interest in parsing out concepts of identity with respect to physical monism. As I’ll illustrate in my next post, I think that this has severe ramifications for the Christian faithful once they adopt monism. 

  • Tommy Baker

    I think you will find that Paul even entertains a panentheism in I Corinthians 15:26-28:

    26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  27 For “God
    has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says,
    “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who
    put all things in subjection under him.  28 When all
    things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be
    subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

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