Saturday, February 20, 2010

9.4 A Soul in a Body, Part 3

This is the third part of a second in a chapter called "What is a Human Being?" This section is called A Soul in a Body and the previous parts of the section are

Part 1
Part 2

And now the section continues...
...Nevertheless, a number of New Testament authors do seem to use either “soul” or more often “spirit” in relation to a part inside us that is separable from our bodies. In 2 Corinthians 12:2-3 Paul is unsure whether he has had an “out of the body” experience or not. Paul so strongly assumes that we will have a resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15 that it is probably hard for him to imagine life without a body. [1] But he seems at least open to the possibility in 2 Corinthians 12. Philippians 1:23 also seems to imply continued existence at death in heaven in some way, prior to the resurrection (cf. Phil. 3:11). Revelation 6:9 speaks of the “souls” under the altar of heaven. These are individuals who were martyred, perhaps beheaded, while they were alive (Rev. 20:4). They apparently receive resurrection bodies and return to the living at the first resurrection (Rev. 20:6).

Because the Bible gives us varied pictures of human psychology and of the afterlife, we probably should not consider any of these pictures absolute. Clearly the New Testament teaches that believers will continue to exist in eternity, and several passages even point to continued existence immediately at death. The Gospel of Luke, for example, has its Parable of the Rich Man, who awakes in torment after death. His brothers are still alive, so he has not awakened after the resurrection. [2] He has not risen from the dead like Jesus, for Abraham denies him that possibility (Luke 16:31). He is thus conscious in an “intermediate state” between death and resurrection. But the rich man does not apparently have a resurrection body—a body that Luke pictures having flesh and bones (cf. Luke 24:39). We should probably infer the same state for Jesus and the thief on the cross between their deaths and resurrection (cf. Luke 23:43).

But it is not clear to what extent these are pictures, put in the categories of the ancients so that the original audiences of these texts could understand them. The books of the Bible give us differing images of human make-up and the particulars of the afterlife. These things relate to another world, another dimension, another universe. And just as Christians have not generally speculated what God is made of in His substance, what “Spirit” really is, probably we should sit loosely to our language of soul and spirit as pictures and metaphors of something that we probably could not literally understand while we are this side of death...

[1] Some (but not most) scholars even suggest that Paul underwent a development on his thinking on this subject. They suggest that Paul started in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 with a strong sense that we sleep until a point at the end of history where we are re-embodiment as part of the resurrection. Then they suggest that he switched to see us being re-embodied immediately at death in 2 Corinthians 5. Perhaps the most famous exponent of this interpretation was F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free

[2] I have often heard the ingenious suggestion that eternity is outside the time of our current universe and thus that the rich man could have been raised at the resurrection and still be “now” in relation to human time. He would thus be raised much later in regard to human time, but resurrected already in relation to otherworldly time. This suggestion is ingenious, but hardly something that the author of Luke would have been thinking.


Anonymous said...

As you note, our concept of the soul is at odds with the actual teaching of the bible books. Shouldn't that tell us that there is something wrong with orthodox belief? Nothing in the bible says souls go to heaven when we die.


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks so much for this series!