Biblical Anthropology: Neither Dualistic Nor Materialistic



Dear ——-,


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.


Providentially, I dealt with these issues somewhat in a couple of the recent Holy Week articles, and they are here and here:


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.


One thought on “Biblical Anthropology: Neither Dualistic Nor Materialistic

  1. johntjeffery says:

    Here are a few quotes on this subject that I have found fascinating.

    “For instance, it was a very special idea of St. Thomas that Man is to be studied in his whole manhood; that a man is not a man without his body, just as he is not a man without his soul. A corpse is not a man; but also a ghost is not a man.”
    — G. K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1933; unabridged reprint Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2009), pg. 14.

    “St. Thomas was not only intent on upholding the reality of the Incarnation. He also wanted to show what were the implications of the Incarnation. Bringing heaven and earth together means bringing body and soul together. It means Man is to be studied in his whole Manhood. A man is not a man without his body, just as a man is not a man without his soul: “A corpse is not a man; but also a ghost is not a man.” St. Thomas thereby affirms the dogma that Modernism rejects: the Resurrection of the body.”
    — Dale Ahlquist, “Lecture 67: St. Thomas Aquinas”, on The American Chesterton Society at
    http://www.chesterton.org/discover-chesterton/chesterton-101/lecture-67/ [accessed 11 FEB 2013].

    “The two classical contexts 1 Cor. xv and 2 Cor. v are explainable only from the standpoint of one to whom a bodiless existence in the world to come would have fallen short of the ideal of supreme blessedness.”
    — Geerhardus Vos, Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, n.d.; 1979 reprint of original from Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 1930), pg. 70, s.v. Ch. III: “The Religious and Ethical Motivation of Paul’s Eschatology.”

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