WHEN THE WORD
The Lord did not contravene
the design of the natural order
in bringing the Redeemer into the world.
He put nature to a higher service,
a service for which it was designed
in the first place.
Part III: When the Word Became Flesh
Embodiment: Essential To Humanness
And the Lord God formed man
of the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and man became a living soul.
(When) the pitcher is broken at the source,
then shall the dust return to the earth as it was;
and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
The body without the spirit is dead.
That men and
animals share a similar life-support system is so obvious that
an increasing number of people are willing to view man on this
account as little more than an animal himself. In defense of
the Christian view of man it is then customary to say that what
distinguishes him from the animals is his possession of a soul.
However, when it is pointed
out that the word soul is applied to animal life before
it is applied to human life*, refuge is then taken in the fact
* cf. Genesis 1:20, 21, 24, 30; 2:19; 9:4,10,12,15,16.
Nephesh, the normal Hebrew word for soul which
is usually translated pneuma in the LXX and the New Testament,
is in Genesis variously translated as living creature, moving
creature, etc., as in these passages, and even as life
itself in Proverbs 12:10.
man is also spirit,
and it is his possession of a spirit that distinguishes him.
But again it has to be noted that the Bible also attributes the
possession of a spirit to animals (Ecclesiastes 3:21). So the
question arises, What, then, is the difference between man and
The answer appears to lie in the
nature of the spirit that man has; and the distinctiveness of
this nature is spelled out in the very passage which also attributes
spirit to animals. Ecclesiastes 3:21 states very specifically
that "the spirit of the beast goeth downward to the earth"
whereas "the spirit of the man goeth upward." If the
destiny of the two kinds of spirit involved is very different,
then we are justified in assuming that the nature of the
two kinds of spirit must be equally different.
But as we have already noted, there
is also some fundamental difference (as yet unidentified) between
the animal and the human body, a difference which likewise
has a profound bearing upon its destiny. We have no indication
from Scripture that when an animal dies it is in any sense a
rending asunder of two constituents, a body and a spirit, which
were designed to remain in union forever. On the contrary,
in human experience the tragedy of death is that the individual
is overwhelmed by the horror of this anticipated rending asunder.
The Bible constantly supports him in this horror, and a very
important part of the hope it offers to man is that the rending
apart will be one day undone and he will be reclothed bodily.
Devoid of language, animals could never have such a hope revealed
to them and one might therefore assume that it was never planned
for them either. For man the situation is quite otherwise.
Scripture places just as much emphasis
upon his body as it does upon his spirit. The uniqueness of man
does not lie merely in the uniqueness of his spirit: it includes
the uniqueness of his body. We therefore learn that the uniqueness
of the whole man lies not only in his possession of such a body
or such a spirit as he has, but in the exceptional relationship
between the two. It is this relationship which constitutes his
humanness. He is not a human being except in the unity of his
body and his spirit. When death overtakes man it effectively
dismembers the whole person contrary to every aspiration of his
soul. Then only the promise of the resurrection of the body fully
James Orr observed that since death
is not something natural to man at all, it is nothing less than
a violent rupture of the parts of man's being that were never
meant to be separated. * Death is thus a mutilation of man's
person; indeed it is more than mere mutilation, it is
* Orr, James, God's Image in Man, Grand
Rapids, Eerdsman, reprint, 1948, p.51, 52, 252.
experientially a temporary
destruction of his person as a fully constituted human being.
This prospect devastates him: all his life he lives in bondage
to the fear of it (Hebrews 2:15), and not least because man is
deeply persuaded that death is not the end of his life.
coming and going of the soul is a mystery. We do not even know
what the precise difference is, if any, between the soul and
the spirit. Nor is there any general agreement as to how the
soul originates, nor exactly when it is admitted to the body.
Is it created or inherited? Does it emerge by the act of conception,
or in the drawing of the first breath, or does it arise at some
critical point during foetal development?
It seems rather unlikely at this
late stage in the development of theology that there will ever
be a general agreement as to whether the constitution of man
is a dichotomy or a trichotomy, a duality of body and spirit,
or a trinity of body, soul, and spirit. Does man have a distinct
spiritual component at all?
While the belief that man has a
spirit which is distinct from his body is virtually universal
in the non-Western world, there is increasing unbelief among
ourselves. It is a recent phenomenon. It is hard to recall a
single primitive society among the hundreds which have been studied
intensely that does not take it for granted. Indeed almost all
primitive cultures place greater emphasis upon the spirit than
the body and have little or no doubt as to its continuance after
the body has been destroyed. Western Man, meanwhile, seems bent
on reducing himself to a soul-less electrochemical machine.
Most higher non-Western cultures
tend to favour a less materialistic view of man's constitution.
It would be difficult to find an instance where they have reduced
man to a mere bodily existence. Even the Chinese with their truly
remarkable knowledge of pharmacology from the very earliest times,
* never fell into the trap of making man's spirit a mere chemical
epiphenomenon of bodily existence.
Assumption of the existence of
an independent soul or spirit has always prompted speculation
about its origin, and various alternatives have been proposed.
For the most part these can be categorized
* The Chinese, from their earliest recorded
history, were acquainted with thousands of catalogued medical
formulations whose characteristics and uses were understood.
Their knowledge of pharmacology was literally encyclopedic. Nevertheless,
as Joseph Needham has pointed out: "In accord with the character
of all Chinese thought, the human organism was an organism neither
purely spiritual in nature nor purely material. It was not a
machina with a single deus in it, which could go
off and survive somewhere else; and for any recognizable continuance
of identity its parts were not separable." (Science and
Civilization in China, Cambridge University Press, 1974,
vol.V, Part 2, p.92)
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under five headings.
(i) The Hindu concept of reincarnation
makes soul as such part and parcel of the stuff of the universe.
It is created only in the sense that the universe is a creation.
It receives individuation because man's will has somehow detached
it. By the suppression of his will he can return his private
portion of soul-stuff to the universal pool and so find peace
and rest in the surrender of his individual identity.
(ii) The Creationist view makes
soul an individual entity uniquely created for the body which
becomes its proper means of expression.
(iii) The Traducianist view holds
that soul-stuff is derived from the parents, and through them
therefore from Adam, in the same way that the body is derived
from the parents and through them from Adam.
(iv) A fourth alternative, limited
to a few primitive cultures but interesting nevertheless, is
that the body is derived from the mother and the spirit from
(v) And finally, the fifth view is
the scientific one which holds that the soul is simply an electrochemical
spin-off, an epiphenomenon of brain. This view reduces man to
a strictly monistic entity in which the concept of an independent
spiritual life is effectively annihilated. Such is pure materialism.
Each of these
has a significant influence on the life style or World View of
the individual who subscribes to it. Perhaps there is not much
difference in the influence on life style between the Creationist
and the Traducianist. But obviously the Hindu position greatly
affects life style of the Eastern world even as the scientific
view has had a profound influence in the Western world. The primitive
view which attributes to the father the provision of a spirit
for the fetus, has its own repercussions in social behaviour.
It is improper in such a society, for example, to observe or
remark upon any physical resemblance between the child and the
father. On the other hand, a good character in a child is at
once credited to the father, though he is also held accountable
for the opposite. * The spirit of his child is his own spirit
as the flesh of the child is the mother's.
In the present context we are only
concerned with the Creationist and Traducianist views of the
origin of the spirit or soul, since they are both strictly biblical;
and fortunately they also provide a frame within which to examine
the pros and cons of the dichotomic and trichotomic alternatives
of the human constitution.
* Murdock, George P., Our Primitive Contemporaries,
New York, Macmillan, 1951, p.179: referring particularly
to the Ainu of northern Japan.
It would seem a simple matter to resolve the dichotomy/trichotomy
question by appealing directly to Scripture. For the trichotomist,
the 'classical' proof text (1 Thessalonians 5:23 "I
pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless.
. .") speaks of man as a trinity. The statement is so straightforward
that it would seem to settle the issue except for the fact
that the weight of the balance of Scripture is strongly in favour
of a dichotomy.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 does not stand
alone in the arsenal of the trichotomists. They also appeal to
Hebrews 4:12, "For the Word of God is quick [i.e., living]
. . . piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit,
and of the joints and marrow. . ." Yet if we take this statement
quite literally we seem to have a quadrichotomy of soul, spirit,
joints, and marrow. Or if this is objected to as absurd, since
the words "joints and marrow" may be intended to be
taken together to represent the physical body, then we ought
logically also to take soul and spirit together as representing
the spiritual component. In which case we strictly end up with
a dichotomy, though the trichotomists make this one of their
"proof" passages. But we do have a quadrichotomy in
the Lord's own statement recorded in Matthew 22:37 and Mark 12:30
in which He speaks of heart, soul, mind, and strength. Again,
if it should be argued (very reasonably) that this is really
an attempt to emphasize the totality of being, then the same
argument can be applied to both Hebrews 4:12 and 1 Thessalonians
However we may choose to interpret
1 Thessalonians 5:23, we have to recognize that for historical
reasons, the Christian Church has adopted the dichotomic view
of man throughout most of its history. We owe to Greek philosophy,
chiefly to Plato, the trichotomic view of man, a view which was
adopted by both the Eastern and Western branches of the Church
at first. The reasons need not concern us except to remark that
Plato was persuaded, on philosophical grounds alone, that the
interaction between what is purely physical and what is purely
spiritual must be mediated through some middle agency. Between
matter and spirit (or mind) he placed the soul. The influence
of mind on body and of body on mind was mediated through the
As a result of the Apollinarian
heresy, the Western or Latin branch of the Christian Church shied
away from the Greek concept of a trichotomy and settled firmly
for the concept of dichotomy. Unfortunately in doing so, they
retained the words soul and spirit without discriminating
their meaning precisely. They were considered interchangeable.
The Eastern Church, meanwhile, retained the trichotomic view.
At the time of the Reformation,
Luther adopted a position which was essentially that of the Greek
philosophers. He said, in effect, that
if man is taken apart
we find ourselves in possession of three components: body, soul,
and spirit the soul again being intermediary. * But if
man is viewed in terms of his qualities, then man is a
dichotomy. That is to say, there is a fleshly side to his nature
and a spiritual side to his nature, the outward man and the inward
man. The spiritual side of his nature is composed of soul and
spirit together, but they are two distinguishable entities. Nevertheless,
each of the three parts which form his constitution can be viewed
as having either a spiritual or a fleshly quality to it: even
as Paul speaks of a fleshly mind (as in Colossians 2:18).
Once the Latin
Church had opted for a dichotomic view, many attempts were then
made to distinguish between the terms soul and spirit
as used in the Bible, and by far the simplest summary statement
found in the works of ancient and modern writers is expressed
most effectively in the observation that man has a body
and has a spirit and is a soul. In effect, the
soul is the person, the individual, the whole man. Unfortunately
theologians have not always respected this useful summation of
relationships and have spoken (and continue to speak) imprecisely,
sometimes using the word soul where spirit would
be proper, and sometimes spirit where soul would
be more correct.
In the last century and a half,
the trichotomic view has been revived among non-Lutheran theologians
by the writings of such men as F. Delitzsch, C. J. Ellicott,
H. Olshausen, and B. Jowett. From Delitzsch we have the fullest
expression of the trichotomic view spelled out in a classic work
entitled A System of Biblical Psychology. Yet it must
be said that Delitzsch himself is not always unequivocal in the
meaning he attaches to the terms soul and spirit. While
he sees both soul and spirit as having a reality in their own
right, nevertheless he says "according to the representation
of Scripture man is a synthesis of two absolutely distinct elements."†
But he divides the non-material side of man's nature into two
separate and identifiable realities, spirit and soul. He bases
part of his argument for the resulting trichotomy on 1 Thessalonians
5:23. Thus at one place he seems to be saying we have a dichotomy
but in another a trichotomy. This equivocation is reflected in
the heading he attaches to Section IV, "The False and the
By far the most widely held view
among systematic theologians
* Lutherans followed suit. Martin Chemnitz
is in this regard one of Luther's best known protagonists [The
Two Natures of Christ, reprinted in English, translated by
J. A. O. Preuss, St. Louis, Concordia Press, 1971].
† Delitzsch, Franz, A System of Biblical
Psychology, translated by Robert E. Wallis, Grand
Rapids, Baker, 1966, p.205.
since the Reformation,
exclusive of Lutherans, has been the dichotomic view. *
And Roman Catholic theology has followed a similar
course, revealing the strong influence of Thomas Aquinas. In
fact, they have on the whole been more precise and consistent
in dealing with the terms soul and spirit than
The Church Fathers, as already
noted, at first espoused a trichotomy, but largely because it
had not yet become a matter of serious discussion, and thought
on the subject was rather individual and random. The Apollinarian
heresy resulted, among other things, in attempts to be more precise.
Gregory of Nyssa (c.335395) abandoned the trichotomic view
at this time. Augustine (354430) held essentially to a dichotomy
but viewed the soul as cognitive and mind as a faculty of the
soul and the seat of awareness. Cyril of Alexandria (died 444)
was a dichotomist, body and soul constituting the whole man.
Medieval theologians followed in
the dichotomic tradition, as Anselm of Laon (died 1117) did,
and Thomas Aquinas (12241274). Anselm of Laon spoke of "the
creation of spirits which are then set in bodies." Aquinas
developed his anthropology and its terms to a fine point of precision.
He wrote: "Now we must look at the distinction between spiritual
and bodily creatures; and first we take the purely spiritual
creatures (angels), then purely bodily things (animals), and
finally those composed of spirit and body, namely, man"[Summa
Theologica, I a. 1, Prologue].†
And again, "Man is not just a soul, but a compound of body
and soul" [Summa Theologica, I a. 1xxv. 4].
One of the most elaborate studies
on the constitution of man in this respect was made recently
by Robert H. Gundry. He traces the use of various terms relating
to the constitution of man among Jewish writers during the Intertestamental
Period and demonstrates conclusively that the Jewish people came
to interpret their Old Testament Scriptures as holding clearly
to a dichotomic view of man.‡
* Among these will be found the following:
Berkhof, Berkouwer, Calvin, Dabney, Gerstner, Gundry, A. A. Hodge,
C. Hodge, Kuyper, Machen, Murray, Orr, Payne, Shedd, Strong,
† This is an idea reflected in early Jewish literature:
"Whereupon God said, 'I will create man to be the mirror
of both (angel and animal) so that when he sins, when he behaves
like an animal, death shall overtake him: but if he refrains
from sin, he shall be immortal.'" [Louis Ginsberg, Legends
of the Jews, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Association
of American, 1955, vol.1, p.501.]
‡ Gundry, Robert H., Soma in Biblical Theology,
Cambridge University Press, 1976. His treatment is very full.
Among Jewish works which reflect the dichotomy of man he lists
the following references: Judith 10:13; 2 Maccabees 6:30; 7:37;
14:38; 15:30; 4 Maccabees 1:20, 26, 27, 32; 10:4; 13 (whole chapter);
14:6. Also the Testament of Daniel 3:1.6; Testament
of Napthali 2:24; and 1 Enoch 71:11.
acknowledges that there
are difficulties in such a study because the Jewish people did
not feel the urge to crystallize their biblical anthropology,
this crystallization being left to Paul to complete in his epistles.
* There is no question that if the dichotomic view of man is
allowed, it is not only to be strongly supported in Paul's epistles
but it is in no way contradicted by anything stated in the Old
Testament provided that some small allowance is made for the
fact that the Hebrew writers sometimes referred to the whole
person under the term soul (nephesh), even applying the
word to Jehovah, and sometimes under the term spirit
essentially equating the two terms as synonymous.
in his study of the Old Testament view of man's constitution
adopts the position that the key to its understanding is to assume
that man has a body and has a spirit and IS, as
a consequence, a soul.
From this position things fall
remarkably into place and make very good sense of the data in
both the Old Testament and the New. At any rate, man is hereafter
in this volume assumed to be a dichotomy of body and spirit.
The soul is what results from the infusion of the spirit into
the body; it is a kind of summation as it were, of the two components
essential for personal existence.
In reference to the spiritual side
of man's being, it is important to observe how precisely Scripture
(especially the New Testament) speaks of the regeneration of
the spirit, of the departure of the spirit in death,
of the return of the spirit in any case of resuscitation.
The state of the body is determined by the fate of the spirit,
and what happens to the spirit in relation to the body determines
what happens to the soul, to the person as a conscious individual.
In the following tabulation, the
reader will notice with some surprise perhaps how
the spirit, not the soul, is the subject of each passage. This
is not simply the result of an eclectic process of careful
* Gundry observes that "it is not fully
appreciated how extensive and uniform is the anthropological
duality in the Jewish beliefs which formed a major part of the
milieu of Paul's own thought. R. H. Charles does not overstate
the case by writing that 'in all the remaining literature of
this period there is only a dichotomy either the spirit
and body, or the soul and body'." [ ibid., p.107]
He concludes: "What is most remarkable is the constancy
with which man is portrayed as made up of body and soul/spirit.
Some affirm the resurrection. Others do not. It is disagreed
whether the body is a hindrance or a help. But consistently body
and soul/spirit form the constituent parts of man throughout
the period in question and regardless of the geographical provenance
of the literature. From the intertestamental literature to the
later rabbinical statements, from Palestine as well as extra-Palestinian
sources, we hear the same opinion: man is body plus soul/spirit,
united but divisible" [p.109].
† Payne, J. Barton, The Theology of the Older Testament,
Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1976, p.224, 225.
screening for the purposes
of writing this chapter. These passages in the great majority
of cases are very specific, very basic, and quite unequivocal.
In a number of instances the two constituents of man's nature
are presented in such a way as to positively exclude any third
component. The complete man is encompassed in the two terms,
spirit and body. For example, if these are cleansed, the whole
man is clean (2 Corinthians 7:1). To glorify God in body and
spirit is to worship Him with all our being (1 Corinthians 6:20).
The spirit is given by God . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
In death man cannot retain this spirit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ananias and Sapphira both surrendered their spirits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Acts 5:5, 10
Stephen commended his spirit, not his soul, into God's
keeping . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Lord Jesus Christ commended his spirit to his Father
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Without the spirit, the body is a corpse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
In revival of the dead, it is the spirit which returns
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Luke 8:55; Revelation 11:11
It is the spirit, not the soul, which is born again . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It is the spirit that is willing when the body is weak
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
We are to glorify God in spirit and body . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1 Corinthians 6:20
Both body and spirit need cleansing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
2 Corinthians 7:1
There are two kinds of birth, one of body, one of spirit
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mystically, the Church is one body and one spirit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
God is the Father of the spirits of the redeemed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
God is the God of all other spirits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. Numbers 16:22
It is the spirit which is finally to be made perfect . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It is the spirit that is to rejoin the resurrection body
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
all this, it is important that we do not place an undue emphasis
on the spirit to the neglect of the vessel that houses it. Man
is not a spirit imprisoned in a body, though we may sometimes
long to be free. This view inspired by Greek philosophy, was
held by the Gnostics. As Paul discovered, it was a false view
of the human constitution that in the Corinthian Church was proving
very troublesome. He wrote to them, burdened by his own weariness,
"In this [body] we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed
upon with an house which is from heaven . . . for we that are
[still] in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not that
we would be unclothed but clothed upon that mortality might be
swallowed up of life" (2 Corinthians 5:2,4). We do not wish
to be disembodied and left that way. We are whole only
as embodied and this is something we sense with every fibre of
The Gnostics were persuading many
of the Christians in the early Church that the body was evil,
that the resurrection was quite unnecessary and was, in fact,
a fantasy. To the Greeks, the idea of bodily resurrection was
absurd: Paul was a "babbler" even to talk about it!
(Acts 17:18). Yet
verse 19 shows that
the idea fascinated them nevertheless. It was, to them, an entirely
new idea and a challenging one.
The Gnostic view of the body as
a prison to be shed when man achieves a truly spiritual life,
invited not only the neglect of the body but even its abuse.
"Prisoners" are more likely to abuse the cells that
imprison them than they are to adorn them, and this is what the
Corinthian believers were doing so long as they viewed the body
as a mere prison.
Paul went out of his way to correct
so entirely false a concept of the nature of man. Man is not
a spirit: he is never called a spirit. He is frequently called
a soul, for in Paul's thought a soul is a spirit/body entity.
To keep the balance, Paul wrote to the Romans and said, "Brethren,
I beseech you by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies
. . . and be not conformed to the world" (Romans 12:1).
And to the Corinthians he wrote, "Your body is the temple
of God"! (1 Corinthians 3:16). And again, "Glorify
God in your body and in your spirit" (1 Corinthians
6:20); i.e., not merely in your spirit . . . .
Gnosticism came in like a great
tidal wave into the early Church in the second century and corrupted
its theology. It seems to have been a particular plague among
the Corinthian Christians, especially at first. But John later
also faced the same problem as is shown by his statements in
1 John 2:22 and 4:2 and 3, in which he twice warns against those
who were denying that Jesus had really come in the flesh at all.
It was being argued that if the body is an unwanted hindrance
to spirituality, it was quite improper that He should be actually
embodied. His incarnation was an appearance only, an accommodation,
much as angels had accommodated themselves whenever they appeared
to man. Their bodies were not real bodies, but only seemingly
All this reflected
the Gnostic distortion of the Christian world view. It saw the
physical order not merely as unimportant but as a positive hindrance
to the full realization of spiritual life. True spirituality
was not merely to be achieved by "keeping the body under
control" (1 Corinthians 9:27) or merely by denying its evil
impulses, but by ignoring its existence altogether, by effectively
denying it as an essential part of the human constitution. So
Christ did not need embodiment to redeem man, since man is essentially
a purely spiritual being. A "bloodless sacrifice" was
quite sufficient. Gnosticism is still with us.
But Paul constantly rebuked this
false view of man. And because there is to be a resurrection
of the body, there is not merely to be a new heaven, there is
also to be a
* This entirely false argument led to the error called
Docetism, from the Greek verb
(dokeo) , "to seem."
new earth. It
seems only proper to think of a new earth, for a new body.
the nature of our new body will be, that will be the nature of
the new earth also.
The promise of bodily resurrection
is everywhere in Scripture. Job, perhaps one of the earliest
books in the Bible, states it clearly. "In my flesh I shall
see God" (Job 19:26). Isaiah 26:19 gives us the same assurance
with the words, "Thy dead shall live, together with my dead
body shall they rise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dus
. . . the earth shall cast out her dead." So also Daniel
12:2, "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth
shall awake . . ." And in the New Testament we have so many
passages that we give only the most express and detailed of them:
1 Corinthians 15:1418 and 35:53; Philippians 3:2021;
1 Thessalonians 4:1318.
While we are embodied, it is proper
for us to be spoken of as souls: even in our dying (Genesis
35:18) and in our resuscitation (1 Kings 17:22). The Hebrew writer,
thinking in Hebrew, spoke ordinarily of the whole person as such,
not of his composition. They were not analytical as we are. In
the Epistle to the Hebrews and in James (both addressed to Hebrew
Christians) the phrase "the saving of the soul" is
found and is proper. We do not find such a phrase in Paul
whose thinking was analytical. While the Lord Jesus during his
earthly life addressed Himself almost wholly to the Jewish people,
here too soul is used, where Paul would have used spirit.
All this is appropriate and in keeping with the particular
The precision which we find in
the Pauline epistles is not to be found elsewhere in this regard.
In Paul's writings, by direct reference or by analogy or by implication,
the basic constituents of man's being as a person are always
(with the notable exception of 1 Thessalonians 5:23) two only
a body humanly provided (which is of the earth, earthy),
and a spirit divinely appointed (which, when born again, is of
Of course, it is proper to speak
of man as a soul whenever we view him in his wholeness as a unique
individual person distinguishable from all other persons, the
centre of a single self-consciousness. He is only by conscious
effort aware of his dual nature, and this chiefly in times of
conflict and spiritual stress. The sense of singular identity
remains, and it persists throughout life under normal circumstances,
both as to man's view of himself and his friends' view of him.
Thus when the Lord says that a man may lose his soul (Matthew
16:26) in a desperate attempt to preserve his body, we know what
As we have already said, in the
Old Testament we do not find reasoned theology but illuminated
experience. Any attempt to formulate an exact definition of man's
constitution on the basis of
221: See Notes at the end of this chapter
experience is bound
to fail because we all interpret experience differently. The
thrust in the Old Testament is not doctrine as such but behaviour,
and quite properly much of that behaviour is described in semi-poetic
terms as in the Psalms. The reality which is given to the
word soul in the Old Testament is perfectly proper. That
the soul should be a composite of body and spirit does not make
it less real.
But that it is a resultant explains
why the New Testament speaks of the spirit being born again,
and not the soul; of the spirit returning to the body, and not
the soul, in times of resuscitation; of the spirit being perfected,
and not the soul; of the spirit being committed to God's care,
and not the soul; it is the spirit, and not the soul, that is
willing in spite of the weakness of the flesh (though clearly
this weakness must reflect upon the soul); and it is the spirit,
and not the soul, that is saved. Yet the soul will be
saved when the perfected spirit is clothed with the glorified
body. So in a sense we can understand why Paul should have broken
out of his characteristic dichotomy when he expressed the earnest
desire: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly;
and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body
be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ"
(1 Thessalonians 5:23).
of the relationship between body, spirit, and soul can be found
by the use of an overlay of two transparent sheets of plastic,
one blue and one yellow. In this paradigm, the overlaying of
the blue (representing the spirit) and the yellow (representing
the body) results in the appearance of a colour that is neither
blue nor yellow but green. The effect of overlaying these
two sheets is immediately apparent.
In this analogy,
the green is the soul, summing up the fusion of the spirit
and the body. The green is the result of a fusion of blue and
yellow, as the soul is the result of the fusion of spirit and
body. Green is both blue and yellow, and yet we are aware only
of green. Soul is both spirit and body, and the two components
are so fused that we have only one centre of consciousness. Separate
the two component colors and the green ceases to be. I suggest
this is analogous to the situation we are dealing with here.
The soul, in short, is both everything and yet nothing in itself.
The reality of the soul is as unquestionable
as the reality of the green, and yet it is the result of the
existence of two entities which are separable, and thus in itself
it has no such independent existence. So long as these
two constituents overlap, soul has a real existence with a destiny
in the world to come by reason of the resurrection
of the body and the
preservation of the spirit which is in God's keeping. Soul,
in short, is the person. Soul is that with which other persons
interact and which has consciousness of itself as a person.
As to the time
of the introduction of spirit into body, there is again considerable
disagreement. Three possibilities exist: (1) at the time of conception,
(2) some time during foetal development, and (3) at the time
of birth. All three positions present problems.
The first meets with difficulties
in view of the fact that probably in at least 25% of conceptuses
(and some authorities would place the figure much higher) spontaneous
abortion occurs often without the knowledge of the mother.
Such a high rate of rejection seems to cast doubt on the divine
wisdom of creating a spirit to no purpose on so many occasions.
Furthermore, the circumstances surrounding the birth of monozygotic
(single egg) twins seems to require the introduction of a second
spirit some time after the initial fusion of the sperm and the
ovum; for in such a case the ovum must divide and become two
separate conceptuses subsequent to the initial fertilization.
The second creates problems because
there seems to be no determinable structural stage of development
which would mark the point of introduction of spirit and the
resulting achievement of personhood. If it is dependent upon
the formation of a central nervous system at some fixed stage
of organization sufficient to support mindedness of a sort, this
stage has never been recognized accurately. The status of the
fetus cannot therefore be determined usefully in this respect.
The third presents problems to
those who argue with considerable force that in the later stages
of development there appear to be purposeful and responsive foetal
movements that suggest a real awareness and therefore presumably
a form of mindedness or actual consciousness. The babe (John
the Baptist) "leaping" in Elizabeth's womb is sometimes
pointed to as an example.
The problems that surround (1)
the origin of the soul or spirit, (2) the time of its admission
to the body, and (3) the precise nature of the human constitution,
seem therefore rather forbidding and unlikely to permit a single
solution acceptable to the Christian community as a whole. Each
individual has to form a personal view on the basis of biblical
data, scientifically established fact, and sound reasoning.
At the risk
of being repetitious, I want to emphasize in every way possible
that according to my view the soul, as such, has no independent
existence. It is not a creation per se. It results from
an overlap of spirit and body. It is the spirit that is created
and given to man (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The key passage which seems
to substantiate this view is Genesis 2:7 where soul is clearly
an emergent. Here it is written:
Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into
his nostrils the
breath of life*; and man became a living soul.
One thing is
clear from this passage: man became a living soul when God added
an appropriate spirit to a prepared body. Adam did not acquire
a soul: he became one. The body was prepared for the
spirit. The spirit was created only when the body was ready to
Man did not begin as a soul for
whom a body was then prepared. He became a soul when the prepared
body received the animation of the spirit. The order always seems
to be the same. The body first, then the provision of the spirit:
and so the constituting of the soul, the "person."
In the day of resurrection the body is to be raised and the spirit
to enter it as the key to reconstitution of a truly human being.
So the spirit of Jairus' daughter re-entered her body (Luke 8:55)
and she became a living person again; and so with the
two witnesses in Revelation 11:11. Likewise the Lord awaited
the preparation of a body for Himself (Hebrewa 10:5) that He
might enter into it to assume a human nature when the time was
fully come. To redeem man He had to be embodied, not assuming
angelic nature, but taking up residence in a human body (Romans
1:3 and Hebrews 2:16) divinely equipped with a created spirit
or soul‡ and thus truly constituted
as to its human nature in the fullest sense.
There is no question that in order
to be a whole person, man must have a body and a spirit. The
origin of these two components is clear. The origin of his body
is by human procreation: the origin of his spirit is by divine
creation, as revealed in Scripture. From the interaction of these
two, there emerges the soul or self, an individual whose identity
persists, even through all forms of unconsciousness such as sleep
* It is important to note that the Hebrew
word (neshamah) rendered breath in this passage
is the same word which is also employed to signify spirit in
other places. Two passages in Job (27:3 and 34:14,15) seem to
indicate rather clearly that a man's breathing and his possession
of a Spirit from God are co-terminous. For the first reference
reads, "All the while my breath is in me and the spirit
of God is in my nostrils," and the second, "If God
set his heart upon a man, he gathers unto himself his spirit
and his breath," and so terminates his life as verse
15 says, "man shall turn again unto dust." In Genesis
2:7 what was added to the body was neshamah (breath),
something that came from God.
† Aquinas recognized this and observed that "it
would be awkward for its creation to precede its union with the
body" (Summa Theologica, Ia xc. 4).
‡ Augustine observed: "The Son of God created
a soul for Himself as He creates souls for all other men."
[Letter #164, see Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Buffalo,
Christian Literature Co., 1886, vol.1. p.521].
conception takes place, a body begins its process of development.
During almost the whole of its fetal development it displays
"reactivity" to various external stimuli reaching it
through the mother. But we simply do not know whether this reactivity
is evidence of consciousness, since it may be observed before
the cerebral cortex has had time to develop; and it is generally
presumed that a functioning cortex is essential to consciousness.
At some critical point, God sends a divinely created spirit.
Although there may be some debate as to when that spirit is given,
there is no question that when it is given it marks the beginning
of the existence of the person as such. The analogy of
the two colors (blue and yellow) superimposed to signify the
joining of the spirit and body and the real coming into being
of personhood as a resultant (the green) is to this extent perfectly
valid. The giving by God of a spirit to each body when it is
ready, certainly marks the appearance of a new individual person.
In just such a way, it would seem,
when the time came for the Lord to dwell among us as Man, the
announcement was made in heaven, "A body hast Thou prepared
for Me" (Hebrews 10:5) and He who hitherto in his pre-incarnate
existence was pure uncreated spirit, responded with the words,
"Lo, I come" and the Logos became flesh and dwelt
among us from that moment in an entirely new way. He came, sent
by the Father, to begin his assumption of human nature through
the agency of a truly human body. So did He appear among us as
a second Adam, born with the potential of unending life (Hebrews
7:16), with the same physical immortality which originally belonged
to Adam, that He might accomplish our redemption.
So there came into being
and it must be spoken with reverence the Person of the
Lord Jesus Christ as Man: He who dwelt in eternity now
dwelt in time. We know whence his body came and we know from
revelation whence He Himself had come, for in the volume of the
Book it is written of Him (Hebrews 10:7). The conception of that
"body prepared" was clearly supernatural, but it no
longer seems necessary to introduce miracle into its foetal development.
* It developed as a "holy thing" (Luke 1:35) but almost
certainly at full term (Galatians 4:4?) it experienced a normal
What we do know is that the Lord
Jesus Christ assumed a truly
* A fact which Gregory of Nazianzen, in a
Letter (#101) to Cledonius the Priest against Apollinarius, remarked
upon as vitally important: "If anyone assert that He. .
. was not at one and the same time divinely and humanly formed
in her (divinely, because without the intervention of man; humanly,
because in accordance with the laws of generation), he is godless."
[Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, New York, Christian Literature
Co.,1894, vol.VII, p.439] The issue was to establish not
only his true deity but also his true humanity.
human nature by the
act of taking up residence in that little body. And as to the
time of his coming to dwell with men, I am persuaded that it
would not be appropriate to Him who already had personal existence
throughout all previous eternity, to have taken up residence
in that body until it was fully prepared and fully formed and
ready for independent existence outside the womb. * Whether this
tells us anything about the vexing issue of the status of the
human fetus in natural generation or not cannot be determined
with certainty, for surely this was a very special case.
And so we
turn now to the Scriptures which deal specifically with the actual
provision of that little body, so uniquely prepared for Him by
* According to Louis Berkhof, the fetus is
not by definition a person: "The term person denotes
a complete substance endowed with reason, and consequently
a responsible subject of its own actions. . . . A person
is a nature with something added, namely, independent subsistence."
[Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Eerdman's, 1969, p.
I may be reading more than I should
into Warfield's words, but I think it significant that he should
have written: "There is no reduction of the Godhead to the
level of the human embryo" [Biblical and Theological
Studies, Philadelphia, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing
Co.,1968, p.165]. Not until the body of Mary's firstborn was
capable of housing the Lord Jesus appropriately did He take up
residence in it, not until "the fullness of time was come"
(Galatians 4:4) was He sent.
Long before this,
Jonathan Edwards (17031758) had written: "As the embrio
of Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary tho it had no spirit
or soul and no proper holiness of nature . . . yet it was from
the spirit of God for it was a work wrought in the womb of the
virgin . . . for that was an holy thing that was born of her"
[quoted by G. H. Gerstner and J. N. Gerstner, "Edwardsean
Preparation for Salvation;" Westminster Theological Journal,
vol.XLII, (1), Fall, 1979, p.45].
221. (See page 10) In 1893, James Orr published his
Christian View of God and the World. In this he laid great
stress upon the importance of the body in the constitution of
man. He first asked, "Is human death that crowning
evil, which carries so many other sorrows in its train
the result of sin, or is it not?" [New York, Scribner, 1893,
p.196ff]. And then he proceeded to show that physical death was
never God's original plan for man: that Redemption "is not
a Redemption of the soul only, but of the body as well. It is
a Redemption of man in his whole complex personality body
and soul together. It was in the body that Christ rose from the
dead, in the body that He has ascended to heaven; in the body
that He lives and reigns for ever more."
His promise to us, Orr observed,
includes a pledge of the resurrection of the body. The truth
which underlies this is, that death for man is an effect of sin.
It did not lie in the Creator's original design for man that
he should die that these two component parts of his nature,
body and soul, should ever be violently disrupted and severed
as death now severs them. Death is an abnormal fact in the history
of the race; and Redemption is, among other things, the undoing
of this evil, and the restoration of man to his normal completeness
as a personal being. . . .
"It is a false view of the
constitution of human nature to regard the body as a mere appendage
to the soul, or to suppose that the human being can be equally
complete whether he has his body or is deprived of it. . . .
The perfect life for man is a corporeal one; and he is
not pure spirit, but incorporated spirit" [emphasis
Later he wrote: "It was no
part of the Creator's design for man in his ideal constitution
that body and soul should ever be separated. The immortality
that man was to enjoy was an immortality in which the body was
to have its share. . . . True immortality is through Redemption,
and this Redemption embraces the resurrection of the body."
Orr considered this physical side
of the plan of Redemption to be just as fundamental to it as
the spiritual. As he put it [p.330f.]: "The aim of God as
regards believers is summed up in the simple phrase conformity
to the image of the Son. . . . This conformity to Christ
includes not only moral and spiritual likeness to Christ, but
likeness to Him also in his glorious body; that is, the Redemption
of the body, life in a glorified corporeality. . . .
"The doctrine of Redemption of the
body is needful for the completion of the Christian view. It
is not an accident, but an essential and integral part of it.
It is essential to a complete Redemption as we saw in speaking
of immortality, that not the soul only, but man in his whole
complex personality, body and soul together, should be redeemed.
. . .
"The doctrine of the Resurrection
of the body is not exposed to some of the objections often made
to it. How, it is asked, can the identical body be raised when
it is utterly decayed, and the particles of which it is composed
are scattered to the winds of heaven. . .? But the Resurrection
does not involve any such belief. The solution lies, I think,
in a right conception of what it is which constitutes identity."
extends his view logically by saying: "The doctrine of the
Christian Consummation carries with it, further, the idea thta,
together with the perfecting of the believer, there will be a
perfecting or glorification even ot the outward nature. This
is implied in the possession of corporeity of any kind, for that
(corporeity) stands in relation to an environment, to a general
system of things" [p.333].
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
Previous Chapter Next
If the body
is essential to truly human existence, and the body is to be
raised so that man once again lives in the totality of his complex
being, he must live in an appropriate environment. Otherwise
he has a part of his being (his body) which is totally foreign
to any new universe that does not share its corporeality. Thus
the promise of Scripture is not merely a new heaven but a new
earth also (Revelation 21:1)!
Apropos of the present interest
in unidentified flying objects and visitors from outer space,
and apropos of the present discussions among biologists about
the possibility of other worlds of intelligent beings, it is
interesting to read the following words written by Orr so many
years ago: "The question still remains even if all these
bright worlds were inhabited . . . by rational beings like to
man himself, are they sinful? Sin retains its awful significance
in the universe, no matter how many worlds there may be. If this
world alone is sinful, then it is worthy of God to redeem it.
. . . The scope of God's purpose is not confined to this
little planet but embraces all the realms of creation" [p.326,
Because Redemption includes the
body, if such intelligences from other worlds have bodies and
are essentially as human as we are, then there can hardly be
any question that they are as redeemable as we. Yet we do not
have any stated evidence in the New Testament that the Lord's
sacrifice extends beyond the human race. We only know that as
in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive
(1 Corinthians 15:22). It might be argued that perhaps there
are such intelligences, but they do not need redeeming because,
unlike man, they have not fallen. In which case we have nothing
to fear from them except that they might be corrupted by
us! The only passage that I can think of which might open the
slightest potential in this direction is in Isaiah 9:7 which
reads: "Of the increase of his government and peace there
shall be no end." It is not interminability per se
that is here promised, but rather continuous increase: and one
has to ask, Increase in what direction? To other worlds than