Biblical Anthropology: Neither Dualistic Nor Materialistic
Posted on April 17, 2017
These are great questions, and I’m so glad you are studying these anthropological issues. They are not ivory tower topics but have serious implications for the real world.
Strictly speaking, the Bible advocates neither naturalism nor dualism. Much of the Christian church historically has been dualistic in that it has defined the human soul as an independent component in contrast to the body and/or the spirit. In some quarters today, there’s a strong push toward a renewed Christian dualism in reaction against our secular culture of naturalism, the idea that man is comprised simply of chemicals and electronic impulses. Obviously, that latter idea is atheistic and unbiblical. But Christian dualism as it is usually understood is not biblical either. In the Bible, “soul” in both the Old and New Testaments is roughly the equivalent for “life,” or “living being.” It is not what is today called “The Ghost in the Machine,” as though the “real” you is inside your body looking out. For instance, in Genesis 2:7 we read that after God fashioned man from the dust and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, he became a living soul or being (nephesh). God did not insert a separate, constituent part into Adam and Eve.
Unfortunately, Christians have been influenced by the Greek idea when they encounter the English word soul, and they understand it to be a separate, potentially independent part of man, the ghost inside looking outward through the human body, which is an external shell.
This is to say that the human without a body is not fully human as God intended. Nor, conversely, is this to say that man cannot exist in some sense apart from the body. There certainly are biblical examples of disembodied human consciousness (Mark 9:2–4; 2 Corinthians 12:2). It seems clear that consciousness is not inextricably tied to the human body. However, disembodied existence is not fully human, and you can see in 2 Corinthians 5:1–5 how the apostle Paul regards with horror the idea of being disembodied.
The biblical anthropology, it seems to me, includes the idea that the immaterial and material parts of man are tightly woven together. At death, they’re temporarily unwoven, and the person retains his consciousness, but he regains full humanity at the resurrection.
I could say much, much more, but I hope this makes sense. Let me know if I need to answer more.
I’m so eager to see you in a couple of weeks.