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The Table Video

Joel Green

On Doing Without a Soul: A New Testament Perspective

Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Fuller Theological Seminary
May 10, 2013

Dr. Joel Green discusses the theological anthropology of the New Testament. He argues that the writings of the New Testament do not necessitate a dualist view of human substance. Rather, he argues for a monism that encompasses the physical and non-physical aspects of humanity. Dr. Doug Huffman responds to his argument.


Thank you Tom and thank you everyone. I want to clarify, I did not write the Gospel of Luke. [audience laughing] Only wrote a commentary on it. Sometimes I feel like I live there on the other end. This afternoon I want to introduce you to the strange case of the vanishing soul. With special reference to the New Testament. In the Authorized Version of the Bible, which most of us know as the King James Version, published in 1611.

The word soul appears 39 times in the New Testament. Typically as a translation of the Greek term [speaking Greek] According to Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English language of 1768, this English term referred to the immaterial and immortal spirit of man. Though Johnson also notes that in Shakespeare, who would have been writing about the same time that the Authorized Version was being translated, soul referred to vital principle, interior power, or spirit. With the publication of the American Standard Version of 1901, the translation of [speaking Greek] as soul had lost some traction.

There are only 34 occurrences of the word soul in the New Testament. 50 years later, the Revised Standard Version of 1952, provided 27 appearances of the soul, in 1989, the New Revised Standard Version, maintained only 22 occurrences, today’s New International Version published in 2001 has 20. The 2011 edition of The New American Bible has 15 and the common English Bible, also published in 2011 has three.

Generally, Bible translations today, tend to use non specialist terms. So it’s perhaps noteworthy that the decline in occurrences of the term soul, has taken place during an era when the public meaning of the term has remained relatively static. According to contemporary Oxford Dictionary, soul is used first in the sense of the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal. Apparently New Testament translators have seeded the term soul to popular usage where it refers to, an immaterial immortal part of a human being, while noting that the Greek term [speaking Greek] is not very well lexicalized in this way.

Those working in the philosophy of mind, will have more specialized ways of thinking of soul. It’s therefore interesting that the New Testament translators have not moved in the direction of identifying other Greek terms for mind, with the English term soul. Terms like noose or frame or other terms, denoting what we today think of in terms of psychological capacities. Like [speaking Greek] guts, or [speaking Greek] heart. As has often been noted in studies of New Testament anthropology, New Testament writers use a wide array of terms to discuss different capacities, or aspects or functions, though not in discreet or denotative ways. So for example [speaking Greek] can overlap in signification with [speaking Greek]

Just as [speaking Greek] can overlap with noose. In fact Hizlow and Nider have correctly observed in the hands of the New Testament writers, [speaking Greek] can refer to a person or life or inner person, or as the standard Greek English lexicon reports in the hands of New Testament writers, [speaking Greek] can refer to quote, “life on Earth “and its animating aspect, “making bodily function possible” end of quote, or quote, “seed and center of the inner human life “and its many and varied aspects” unquote, or simply person.

Given these ways of understanding the term [speaking Greek], it is perhaps no surprise that we have seen a remarkable decline in appearances of the word soul in English translations of the New Testament. Against this linguistic backdrop, perhaps the case of the vanishing soul is not so strange after all. Nevertheless, the question of the soul in the New Testament bears investigation. After all a common view, among those outside of biblical studies, is that the Old Testament assumes or bears witness to an anthropological monism, whereas the New Testament appears to support a dualistic rendering of the human person body and soul.

I tend, by the way, to use the word monism in a general way, simply referring to an anthropology in which it is unnecessary to postulate a second metaphysical entity such as a soul or spirit, to account for human capacities and distinctives. So it’s worth inquiring into what has been going on behind the scenes, so to speak, that has given rise to this vanishing of the soul.

First, however, let me have a brief excursus. Since this is a conference on neuroscience in the soul. I should note at the outset that the trends of which I speak in New Testament studies, are not due to influence from the natural sciences. For better or worse, New Testament scholars generally are not known for their proclivities to engage with studies outside of New Testament studies.

They are known rather for their esoteric in house discussions. Academics in the field of New Testament studies are popularly portrayed as wanting to say more and more, about less and less. I can count on one hand, the fingers on one hand all the New Testament scholars, who have published materials, requiring some work in the neurosciences and these date from the last decade or so.

Accordingly, the scholarly trajectory occupied by New Testament studies over the last century and more, does not owe its direction or velocity, or end point to pressure from the neurosciences. In some way this lack of interaction is unfortunate. After all important shifts in a field are often indebted to bringing insights from another field to bear on yet another field. One has only to think of the enormous impact the social sciences have had in New Testament studies in the last three or four decades, to get a sense of what I mean.

Since the neurosciences were moving along a parallel track, we might wonder what an earlier collusion between the two fields might have produced. After all, the term neurology was coined in the latter half of the 17th century by Thomas Willis, an English and Anglican doctor of physic, whose own work as a case study in the problem presented by what was then the traditional belief in a soul. Following a distinction we see already in the first century, Alexandrian Jew Philo, Willis wrote of two souls, to which he referred to as the corporeal soul or the soul of brutes, or the animal soul, which would have been common to humans and animals.

And then also the rational soul which was superior to the corporeal soul, which is found only in humans. Having acknowledged the existence of the rational soul which he understood is immortal, Willis devoted himself at length to the function and properties of the animal soul. And this opened the way for him to include cyclical issues within the competence of medicine, and to present a coherent, psychophysiological approach to human capacities and behaviors.

Our difficulty today with grasping what to make a Willis is immaterial rational soul, is illustrated in his understanding of the brain, as the origin of the motions and conceptions of both, the rational soul and the corporeal soul. For example, he located cognition, imagination, volition, and affect in the brain or spinal column.

This in spite of the widespread view that these are capacities not of the brain but of the immortal soul. Thought, he assigned to the cerebrum. Voluntary movement, to the cerebral hemispheres. Perception to the corpora striata, imagination to the corpus callosum, memory to the cerebral cortex, instinct to the midbrain and involuntary regulation to the cerebellum. He was wrong in almost every respect. [audience laughs] Though it remains no less telling that human capacities, attributed to the tradition of the soul had on Willis’s examination table, found a home in the stuff of the brain.

Already in the 17th century then, Willis adopted a metaphysical solution to the problem of personhood that allowed him to proceed along and empiricists path with matters of the immortal soul partitioned off, outside the realm of experimentation, or even consideration. To put it in terms that would have traction long after Willis, matters of the immortal soul belong to the domain of theology beyond the reach of science.

This was true in spite of the fact that in Willis’s hands, the doctrine of the soul had shriveled and lay languishing, or perhaps better, the immaterial soul seems to have materialized. As Carl Zimmer would put it, it is as if in Willis’s his work soul became flesh. If the capacities constitutive of the human creature traditionally allocated to the immaterial soul were identified by Willis with the substance of the brain, then the need underlying the attribution of an immortal soul to the human would seem to have vanished.

Today, of course, it’s commonplace to talk of the tightening of the mind brain relationship in order to account for repeated demonstrations of the somatic basis of emotional, intuitive, contemplative, volitional and other cognitive capacities. Todd Feinberg and others have spoken of the embodied nature of human life by showing how personal identity and human relatedness are tied to the brain, just as others have documented, how neural events are associated with therapeutic and psycho pharmacological interventions in cases of a range of psychiatric disorders and still others have demonstrated the correlation of morphological transformations in the brain with meditation, memory, mindfulness, and more.

Whatever else they are, religious experiences including, say speaking in tongues or visionary experiences, are demonstrably brain events. Such findings are commonplace in contemporary study, but it should not escape our notice that these findings are not wildly innovative. The basic notion that these human capacities, aspects and experiences are tied to the brain, dates back at least as far as Thomas Willis’s laboratory, 350 years ago.

Now I haven’t suggested and would not want to suggest that these human capacities, aspects and experiences are merely somatic events. In the case of religious experiences for example, I have merely observed that religious experience belongs to the category of all human experiences which are embodied and have a neural basis. To take speaking in tongues as a specific example, I’m only acknowledging that our capacity to identify changes in neural activity and cases of glossolalia, is consistent with a variety of interpretations, including, but not limited to the view that the speaker’s brain and body have come under the influence of a deity.

That speaking in tongues is nothing but a human activity reducible to synaptic firings in the brain, or that tongue speaking is the consequence of ritualized patterns of worshipful activity. Different communities will assess the same phenomena differently. The question is whether we need to deposit the notion of an immaterial and or immortal soul, in order to account for a religious experience like glossolalia. From the perspective of the natural sciences, the answer, of course is no and the title of my address might suggest to you or it might not surprise you that, from the perspective of New Testament studies, the answer is likewise no.

And with this claim, I bring this excursus to a close and return to our primary concern, the strange case of the vanishing soul. How shall we explain it? Let me briefly expand on three areas of study. First, the significance of historical inquiry for situating the New Testament materials more securely in their first century milieu, as a prophylactic against colonizing New Testament perspectives with foreign assumptions about theological anthropology.

Second, the significance of socio cultural forms of inquiry, including medical anthropology and social psychology for shaping our understanding of humanity in the New Testament. And third, a reconsideration of New Testament texts, previously taken as obvious illustrations of the New Testaments anthropological dualism.

First, then, we account for the significance of historical inquiry for situating the New Testament materials, more securely within their first century historical context, as a prophylactic against colonizing New Testament perspectives with foreign assumptions about theological anthropology. The transformation in thinking about New Testament anthropology is easy to document.

At the end of the 1800s, the reigning views of Pauline anthropology for example, were either that Paul imagined the human person in dichotomous terms body, soul, or in trichotomous terms body, soul, and spirit. The second viewpoint of course, is based on the famous text in 1 Thessalonians where Paul writes, quote, “May God Himself, the God of peace, “sanctify you through and through. “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless “at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thess 5:20 through 23 from the TNIV.

Given this unambiguous phrasing, I often find it surprising how easily our contemporaries who want to work with Scripture, can continue to hold to some form of dualism, since it isn’t easy to see one why one would allow that the body-soul distinction to stand but collapse the spirit-soul distinction, into a monism of things immaterial. What may be even more surprising, however, is Anthony Thiselton’s finding that with few exceptions the history of interpretation of first 1st Thessalonians 5:23, has tended toward a monist understanding of even this text.

In any case with regard to Pauline anthropology more generally, by the end of the 1900s New Testament scholars, by the mid 1900s, New Testament scholars had largely rejected a dichotomous or trichotomous anthropology, in favor of what I shall call a non partitive understanding of the human person.

That is, the human person was a single whole, indivisible into parts, what I have otherwise termed monism, that is, the rejection of the need for an ontologically separate soul or spirit to account for human capacities and distinctives. This transformation is due especially to the authority of Rudolf Bultmann, whose theological analysis of the human as a creature who does not possess a body but who is the body, would dominate subsequent discussion.

Other scholars would poke and prod at Bultmann’s understanding on this or that point but this emphasis on the essential unity of human existence was championed by an array of New Testament scholars in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. For example, in his book, “The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology”, John Robinson claimed that Paul’s anthropology was essentially Hebrew, in its holistic and unified understanding. F.F. Bruce, widely acknowledged as the Dean of evangelical Biblical Studies in the 20th century, concluded similarly, that in his anthropology, quote, “Paul was a Hebrew born and bred.”, unquote, and ever influential Marburgian, Werner Georg Kummel wrote in his study of Man in the New Testament, with regard to Paul we can speak only of the unity of the complete person. Writing toward the end of the 20th century, New Testament theologian Udo Schnelle, sought to correct Bultmann by urging that, quote, a person has a body and is a body.

A self evident emendation of Bultmann’s famous dictum, man does not have a [speaking Greek], he is [speaking Greek]. This list of New Testament scholars who have published significantly in this area and with similar conclusions could be expanded easily enough. But perhaps this is enough to demonstrate the direction historical inquiry, had moved the conversation away from 19th century views concerning Paul’s two part or three part anthropology, in favor of a unified human being.

Moving beyond these general observations, we can go on to discuss two factors that led to this reformulation of New Testament anthropology. The first, is that the New Testament scholars, generally learned more and more to take more and more seriously, the influence of Israel’s Scriptures and its theological trajectories, on early Christian writings, an influence that would include a portrait of the human creature in the words of Brevard Childs as, quote, “A complete entity and not a composite of parts.”, end of quote.

That is if Israel’s Scriptures rather than Plato’s writings, constitute the subtext of New Testament thought, then our assumptions about what words mean and our interpretive categories undergo a fundamental shift. Just as clinical psychologists and members of my Church’s adult education class, will hear the word borderline in quite different ways.

Just as a bass fisherman will understand the phrase bank runner, or the term bucket mouth, while the rest of us are left to our imaginations, in the same way, approaching New Testament texts with monist category shifts, what is seen and heard when compared with those who approach the text with dualist, or trichotomous categories in tow. What we see depends a great deal on the prescription of our glasses, or our contact lenses, and historical inquiry and New Testament studies, has effected a major chain of prescription so to speak.

If the first factor, draws on the importance of Israel’s Scriptures for New Testament thought, the second has to do with a rather wholesale rethinking of what it means to refer to the Greco-Roman background, within which the New Testament materials were written. Against the tendency to imagine that Josephus or Philo represented a pervasive platonic influence in the first century world.

We now know that Josephus and Philo were in some ways far from the center of Jewish engagement with Greco-Roman philosophy, and perhaps more importantly, that platonic influence was not as dominant as was once imagined in the first century. The first century Mediterranean world was characterized by diverse anthropologies, and the most prominent philosophical schools, Stoicism and Epicureanism held decidedly non platonic views of the soul, both with regard to the soul’s corporeal, or material nature, and with regard to its immortality.

The point is simply this, against those who imagine that in their engagement with Greek thought, the New Testament writers, developed a recognizably Greek approach to theological anthropology, we must recognize simply that it is not possible to speak reductively in this way of the world of Paul, John or Luke. No singular conception of the soul held sway in the New Testament world, and the body-soul relationship was variously assessed among philosophers and physicians in antiquity.

We have thus drawn attention first to the significance of historical inquiry for situating the New Testament materials, more securely within their first century context, as a prophylactic against colonizing New Testament perspectives with foreign assumptions about theological anthropology. We can now push on further secondly, by noting that the direction historical inquiry has taken. I refer to the significance of sociocultural forms of inquiry, including medical anthropology, and social psychology for shaping our understanding of humanity in the New Testament world.

My first example of how historical inquiry has moved us toward a holistic anthropology comes in the form of medical anthropology or ethnomedicine, and accounts for the ease with which western readers of say the New Testament gospels, read modern categories back into these texts. This is because to a degree, not often recognized, sickness is in the eye of the beholder, with the result that the identification and etiology of sickness and the therapeutic interventions warranted, are typically grounded in cultural understandings of health.

If we can agree that sickness is an unwanted condition of self or substantial threat of unwanted conditions of self, then notions of health and sickness are tied to how a people measure human well being. Accordingly, western readers of the Bible have tended to focus on a diagnosis of a presenting problem and its resolution, in terms oriented toward the physical body, an approach that reflects the western medical tradition.

But an approach that often turns a blind eye to definitions of healing and health assumed in and supported by the biblical materials. Robert Hahn of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a useful antidote to the problem. He sketches a three fold taxonomy, there are many of these, but his taxonomy for intercultural study of healing is as follows, one, there are he says disease accounts, which focus on abnormalities located within the body, beneath the mind, beneath the skin. The problem lies in the structure and functions of bodily organs or systems so healing requires physical or biomedical intervention.

Two, illness accounts, which center on the body but also one’s networks of relationships and interaction with a larger social environment. The body is placed within a larger web of meaning that includes the embodied lives of persons in community. Healing might require physical intervention but certainly must address the nesting of persons with others as the target of intervention.

And then thirdly, disorder accounts without neglecting either the body or one’s network of relationships, disorder accounts also attend to one’s relationship to the cosmos at large, experienced as out of order. Hahn notes that these are ideal categories that in the lived experience of people, are often overlapping. Now with contemporary people to the west tend to think of the disease as preeminently in bodily terms, then they would also imagine that healing requires biomedical or bodily intervention.

People within biblical accounts, however, tend to think of sickness in more holistic ways. The source of sickness within lies not always and not only in the bodies of the sick but also and sometimes especially in their social environments, and in the larger cosmos. Let us take an example leprosy. In the Gospels, leprosy only rarely, if ever refers to what we today call leprosy that is Hansen’s disease. It instead includes a range of skin conditions which according to Leviticus 13 and 14, make a person unclean from a religious perspective.

This is why someone diagnosed by a priest as a leper is relegated to the margins of human community. Leviticus 13, verses 45 and 46, the person who has the leper’s disease shall wear torn clothes, and let the hair of his head be disheveled. He shall cover his upper lip and cry out, unclean, unclean. He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease, he is unclean. He shall live alone his dwelling she’ll be outside the camp.

This leprosy is not life threatening from a biomedical perspective and accounts of leprosy in the gospels, are not concerned with the communication of a biological pathogen. Using Hahn’s categories, the disorder of leprosy is communicable to others through physical contact. In this case the contagion is not a disease causing micro organism, but the socioreligious status of ritual impurity.

And when you read Leviticus 13 and 14 and recognize that leprosy is the consequence of divine curse, then one sees that we’ve moved beyond social relationships into religious categories. Biblical accounts of leprosy thus demonstrate how religious, social and physical considerations, unite in a single disorder. Other examples lie close at hand, including persons who are demonized, those who suffer from paralysis, those who suffer from generalized edema, or even death.

The issue is not a quote, “bodily problem”, unquote. It is not the case that a person’s body requires healing. Human health is not about bodies per se, as if bodies might somehow be separable from human lives. The situations in which we find Jesus intervening and empowering his disciples to do the same, are more fully integrated human problems, and therapeutic interventions, are aimed at the restoration of human health. My first example of how historical inquiry has moved us toward a holistic anthropology, concerned with the insight provided by medical anthropology.

My second example concerns the ease with which contemporary readers might transform words and phrases in the New Testament concerned with inner and outer into support for anthropological dualism, rather than working more from within the social psychology of the New Testament era. This is easy enough to understand to see why this happens, given our inclination, as Charles Taylor puts it, in his study of Sources of the Self deposit both that a human has an inner self and that this inner self is the true self.

But in their studies of Paul’s language of the inner person, both Hands Leader Bets and Tale Hackel, have rejected the view that with this language Paul is working within the framework of body-soul dualism, with heckled in particular, emphasizing that Paul’s concern, is with embodied life in this world. More to the point is the way in which exteriority, whether one is speaking of a person’s countenance, the light of the person’s eyes, or even one’s clothing, cannot be understood in terms separate from one’s character or dispositions, or one’s inner life.

This is a consequence of the social psychological observation that in the New Testament world, personal identity is outward focused rather than inward focused. Some rather obvious examples come to mind. In Galatians 3:27 to 29, to be quote, “closed in Christ”, unquote, is not to wear Christ as an outer garment, a kind of facade, a cover up of the real me, but in fact expresses allegiance to Christ and the dissolution of socio religious distinctions, among different kinds of human beings, Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, female.

In Romans 13, putting on the armor of light, and being clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ, these are tantamount to honorable forms of believing, thinking, feeling and behaving. As Klaus Berger puts it, in his book on historical psychology of the New Testament, when Jesus Christ is identified as the garment that one puts on, he says, what is meant is that Jesus determines and defines what one represents in the eyes one’s contemporaries.

The metaphor continues in other references to getting dressed. In 1st Timothy 2 we are told, women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing not with their hair braided or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but dress with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God, 1st Timothy 2:9 and 10. Such a word of instruction, makes sense in the ancient world, only because clothing expressed not only status and wealth, but who one is.

This is why in that world a variety of literary forms, like legal documents and philosophical treatises, and even images on coins, concerned themselves with the appropriate dress. Items in the catalog we find in 1 Timothy 2, braiding of hair, gold, fine clothing, would accordingly be interpreted as windows into a woman’s essential being.

Displaying lack of self-control, for example, immodesty, pompousness, even lewdness. Elsewhere, Peter addresses everyone, women and men, using the related metaphor of disrobing, take off he says, [speaking foreign language] take off every evil, every deceit, pretenses, jealousies, take off all slander. Note the parallel thinking in a texts in the New Testament that affirm the organic nature of humanity. According to John the Baptist, we know who live conversionous lives because of their behaviors.

Bear fruits in keeping with repentance Luke 3:8. According to Jesus, we know a tree is good because of its good fruit. Thorn bushes produce thorns, fig trees produce figs, Luke 6, or as James puts it, both freshwater and saltwater don’t come from the same spring, do they? My brothers and sisters can a fig tree produce olives? Can a grapevine produce figs? Of course not.

And freshwater doesn’t flow from a saltwater spring either. James 3:11 and 12. Illustrations of this kind do not negate the importance of the language of inner and outer, but they do beg for our understanding of this language outside categories associated with two part or three part views of the human person.

They remind us that this way of speaking refers to aspects or dimensions of life and not to a distinction between immaterial and material or otherwise to a person’s parts. References to the outer person are not references to one’s corporal reality to one’s body as a discrete part of a person, but to the person in his or her entirety. For us interiority often refers to the inner directness of the person and thus to his or her true self. Within the New Testament writings, interiority may refer to a person’s core, but not so much there hidden real self, but the self as already transparent in its other directness.

My concern has been the strange case of the vanishing soul. I’ve been exploring some of the reasons for the move away from the portrait of the human person as having two or three parts. First, by drawing attention to the way historical inquiry has situated the New Testament materials, more securely within their historical context, as a prophylactic against colonizing New Testament perspectives with foreign assumptions about theological anthropology. And secondly, by noting the significance of sociocultural forms of inquiry for shaping our understanding of humanity in the New Testament world.

Third, then we turn to the reality that New Testament texts are no longer regarded as transparently dualistic or trichotomous, in their understanding of the human person. This is not to say that we cannot find interpretations that affirm dichotomous or trichotomous portraits of the human creature. It is rather to say that such interpretations, can no longer be regarded as obvious, the only or even the best readings.

Among the exemplars to which we could turn, I will mention two. First, the anthropological terminology of 1st Peter, and secondly, the celebrated proof text, Matthew 10:28. The case of 1st Peter is especially interesting. First, some scholars have found in Peter’s language, the basis for affirming a dualism reminiscent of Plato. And second, the stakes are high and so far as Peter sets out a theological perspective on suffering, life in this world, eschatology and sin, that would be difficult to square with body -oul dualism.

So how is it that Peter deploys the terms associated with the nature of the human person? He uses the word [speaking Greek] often translated as body only once, in 1 Peter 2:24 with reference to Christ’s having borne our sins in his body on the tree. This, of course, is the same Christ who was present in times past who inspired the prophets, 1:11 and who will be revealed in glory, multiple times in 1st Peter, that is, this is the same Christ otherwise portrayed as a transcendent figure who shares in God’s own identity.

Accordingly, this reference to Christ’s [speaking Greek] is a sure affirmation of bodily existence and of the significance of embodied human suffering. So much for [speaking Greek] sometimes translated flesh or body, is used in 1:24 as a reference to humanity and otherwise with reference to life as a human. In 1st Peter 3:18 21, 4:1 and so on.

For example, in 1:24 all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass, or in 4:1, since, therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin. So much for [speaking Greek] translated as live or vitality, sometimes translated as soul, appears six times in 1st Peter. In 2:11, [speaking Greek] is said in contrast to [speaking Greek], belonging to this world but [speaking Greek] never appears in relationship or opposite [speaking Greek], flesh. Christ is the guardian of the Christians’ [speaking Greek] in 2:25, just as God is guarding you, [speaking Greek] for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time.

I should have said y’all instead of you. Those who suffer and trust there [speaking Greek] plural to God 4:19 and 3:20 [speaking Greek] refers to persons, Noah and his kin, who were rescued from the flood. From this data, we can surmise that for Peter [speaking Greek] concerns life as it reflects and/or pertains to this world, and [speaking Greek] which pertains to life as it reflects and/or pertains to the world to come.

The dualism with which Peter operates then is eschatological and not anthropological. In other words, Peter proves himself to be more an heir of the scriptures of Israel, than of Plato in his understanding of the human person. This allows him to take with the utmost seriousness, the dire situation in which his audience finds itself.

After all, it isn’t the case for him that harassed believers could retreat from physical pain into their genuine selves, untouched by the calamity of suffering as though their suffering were only physical. Nor does he offer the related hope that even though they are suffering in their bodies, this doesn’t matter because God is really concerned with and will rescue their souls. His emphasis on embodied existence provides life in this world its fullest significance, and it serves as the basis for his emphasis on a faithful manner of living in the world.

Human physicality also ties Peter’s audience to the rest of creation, thus pressing the question of how their suffering, participates in the situation of the cosmos, or, perhaps more to the point, how their liberation is tied to the fate of the cosmos. Importantly, the work of Christ in death and exaltation has repercussions for humans and for the cosmos. What of Matthew 10:28? Here’s the text, don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Two caveats.

Before exploring this saying let me first enter this caveat. If one were to argue that Matthew 10:28 bears witness to body-soul dualism, this would not be the same thing as saying that Jesus of Nazareth held to some form of anthropological dualism. In other words, one couldn’t use this text as a kind of trump card that gives us what Jesus thought, about anthropology if one were so inclined to play trump cards. Jesus primary language is Aramaic.

So this English translation of a Greek text, cannot be said to represent the historical Jesus pure and simple. What is more, we have a parallel account in Luke 12, four and five, which leaves open, a quite different way of making sense of the same saying, Luke’s version reads this way, I tell you, my friends, don’t be terrified by those who can kill the body but after that can do nothing more. I’ll show you whom to fear. Fear the one who after you have been killed, has the authority to throw you into hell. Indeed, I tell you, that’s the one you should fear.

In Luke’s version, Jesus says no more than that those who are persecuted should take comfort in knowing that martyrdom is only the end of one’s existence in this world, and not the ultimate end of one’s life. Reading from Luke to Matthew then, the use of psuche in Matthew would refer not to soul, but to vitality or life. One more caveat. If Matthew 10:28 is taken as a reference to an anthropological dualism, then it’s a strange kind of dualism.

One that is not at all home in the dualism of traditional theological anthropology. Traditional dualism has the soul separating from the body at death, with the body left to decompose and the soul to live on. From a traditionalist perspective then, with these words in Matthew, something has gone wrong. The body has apparently refused to remain dead.

The body is not left as carrion for wild animals.

It’s not left to decompose after information, but continues this existence in hell with the soul. So what are we to make of this text? Howard Marshall recognized long ago that this saying neither presumes, nor requires a particular anthropology. Quote, “The truth of the saying doesn’t depend “on a particular theory of the body, soul relationship”., end of quote. He goes on to argue that the phrase body and soul in biblical usage refers to the totality of one’s human one’s personality, with either term body or soul, capable of describing the whole person.

Similarly, in his contribution to The New International Greek Testament Commentary, John Noland explains that soul and body provide a comprehensive designation for all that makes us a person. He observes, we have no better word than soul but the presence of the body in the post mortem state, warns against dualism of mortal body and immortal soul.

He prefers to think of soul as quote, “an inner aliveness “of the person and not as an ontologicaly separate entity “alongside the body.” Now given the socio cultural context of Judaism in the Second Temple period, we shouldn’t be surprised by a text like Matthew 10:28. This saying echoes the martyr theology of such Hellenistic Jewish texts as Wisdom 16 and 2nd Maccabees 6, which maintain that persecutors have access only to the body, but only God has power over the whole person.

Accordingly, it’s worth exploring whether such texts make use of the metaphorical rather than an ontological dualism, in which the inner and outer aspects of the human being are separated for the sake of mitigating the power of those who would persecute the faithful. In fact, when we examine New Testament texts, related to the monism dualism controversy, the distinction between ontological and metaphorical dualisms should always be kept in mind, since as Marshal’s comments already suggest, biblical authors can employ conceptual and or rhetorical distinction says heuristic devices for speaking of what is in fact, indivisible.

This is true not only of the Greek speaking writers of New Testament texts, but also of a number of Hellenistic writers for whom body and soul are not separate entities but aspects of a single whole. In other words it can’t be taken for granted that first century readers and authors, would have heard anthropological dualism in the linguistic duo [speaking Greek] and [speaking Greek], inner outer body soul, these linguistic pairs have a figurative function just says the pair in Scripture, flesh and blood, don’t designate different parts of the human being, but rather refer to human agency rather than divine.

Interestingly, Matthews usage elsewhere, demonstrates that he does not otherwise use the term [speaking Greek] and [speaking Greek], in ways that encourage or support a dualistic reading. [speaking Greek] can be used with reference to a corpse, Matthew 14:12, Matthew 27:58 and 59. A [speaking Greek] can also be thrown into hell, Matthew 5:29 and 30 and of course 10:28. In Matthew 622 23, Matthew reports these words of Jesus, the eye is the lamp of the body, [speaking Greek].

So if your is healthy, your whole body [speaking Greek], will be full of light. But if your eye is unhealthy your whole body [speaking Greek] will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness? Here [speaking Greek] certainly refers to physical sensation and physicality more generally, while also including the integrated self capable of good and evil, dispositions, illumination and insight.

Matthew has thus not taught his readers to find in the term [speaking Greek] the first part of a two part soul-body dualism. Psuche appears more often in Matthew’s Gospel, but Matthews usage provides no traction for a dualistic interpretation of our text. The term signifies someone’s life, in the vast majority of cases, for example, in a reference to those seeking to end the life of the Child Jesus into 2:20, or and Jesus claimed that he came to give his life in order to liberate many in 20:28, in these texts [speaking Greek] does not refer to an ontological separate part of a person distinct from the body, and in fact the NRSV translates [speaking Greek] only four times in Matthew.

Twice an our text, once where it is used metaphorically of God’s a effective capacities in 12:18 and once in the recitation of the Shema, Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one God and so on in 22:37 quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 where the senses wants vitality. How then should we read Matthew 10:28?

That Jesus saying introduces a dichotomy is obvious enough, but of what kind? In a word of encouragement, Jesus insists that once persecutors in this world are incapable of destroying the life that God has given. How is this possible? Apparently, the answer does not lie in denying the finality of death, but in affirming the anticipation of resurrection. Matthew 22:23 through 33.

But the same word is a word of warning. God raises the dead, the person in his or her totality. And for those who do not maintain faithfulness in the midst of persecution, God is quite capable of relegating to Gehenna, even the life he has given. In the end, we may find the English word soul in a text like Matthew 10:28. But it’s usage here should not be confused with its usage among philosophers or theologians, who want to affirm a two or three part portrait of the human person.

This is because Matthew’s Gospel as a whole, does not support such a usage, and because this text in particular does not sit well with dualist or trichotomous portraits of life after death. More generally though, it seems clear that those who have translated the Greek New Testament over the past five centuries, have increasingly found it appropriate to do so without recourse to a human soul. This is not simply a case of linguistic slippage. But the consequence of sustained exploration of the socio historical context, within which the New Testament writers lived and wrote. The fruit of that sustained exploration has been making its way into a wide array of studies, concerned with what we today call theological anthropology.

With a result that texts that perhaps one seem to support, a partitive understanding of the human person do so less and less. In popular usage, the English term soul usually refers to an immaterial, immortal part of a human. Since the Greek term [speaking Greek] is not very well Lexicalized in this way, New Testament studies has increasingly learned to do without a soul. Thank you very much. [audience claps]

My first awareness of Joel Green came in the early 1990s, when one of my doctoral professors, Scot McKnight, asked me to pick up an orphan article on the genealogy of Jesus for the dictionary of Jesus in the gospels, which he was editing with Joel Green.

This article became one of my first real entries into the publishing world, so, thank you Dr. Green. Not long afterward I was wrapping up my degree and doing the dreaded job search and McKnight suggested that I investigate an open position at an institution in Northern California. He insisted that I at least have a telephone conversation with somebody at that institution to find out a little bit more about the job and that telephone conversation was with Joel Green.

And while I did not pursue that role, nor was I pursued for that role, I am grateful for that early experience in the interviewing world, so thank you again, Dr. Green. Closer to our current year and to the topic at hand in 2008.

The science and theology symposium at the CS Lewis Foundation at Oxbridge, the Oxbridge conference. it was addressing the theme, what does it mean to be human? Intermingling the disciplines of philosophy, psychology, neurosciences, biology, biblical studies and theology. I was invited to participate in that symposium representing a perspective from the field of biblical studies.

But I’m very much aware that the primary reason I was invited was because Joel Green had turned down the opportunity. So thank you again, Dr. Green. [audience laughs] This past fall semester, Dr. Green came to spend a day with the fellows at the Center for Christian Thought, during which time I was serving as one of the fellows.

It was no surprise then that for his lectures around our giant conference room table, I made sure to sit close to his end of the table because I didn’t want to miss a thing. As was already noted, I share several of Dr. Green’s interests, Luke and Acts questions of hermeneutics, New Testament translation, the neurosciences and the life of the local church.

So, thank you once again Dr. Green for allowing me, this time of interaction with you on some of our mutual interests. In our work this year at the Center for Christian Thought on this topic of neurosciences in the soul, we have noted that there is a continuum of opinions ranging from extreme monism on one side, that is that humans are composed entirely of only a physical substance, to extreme dualism on the other side.

That is that humans are composed of two subs substances, one physical and one non physical and that the non physical is somehow more important. Even if you knew nothing of Dr. Green’s extensive work in this field, the title of his remarks today certainly discloses that he is some place on the monistic side of the continuum and he made that clear just now.

But no matter where you are yourself on this continuum, I think it’s important to point out at least three things, worthy of commendation in what Dr. Green is doing for Biblical theological thinking with regard to the question of neuroscience and the human soul. Green has been brave enough to ask difficult questions of the status quo in our theological disciplines. And sometimes a little disconcerting shake is good for one’s stability.

Let me formulate my commendations, regarding Green and his presentation by making three proclamations in my own words that I trust, represent his sentiments as well. My first commendation, it’s good to question our hermeneutics methodology. Does the Bible actually say what we think it says? Or is that really what we desire is to say? It’s good to examine our methods, and so to put ourselves back under the examination of Scripture itself.

So as Dr. Green points out the question of the existence of a non material soul is sometimes too easily addressed by simplistic appeals to the existence of the word soul in the pages of the Bible, without asking what that term or other related terms in the discussion actually mean. It’s good to be humble enough to slow down and to ask simple and baseline questions about our hermeneutical method. Second, we live in a universe where all trues fits together.

While we can appreciate the varying uniqueness of the vocabulary and operational principles in different disciplinary arenas, at the end of the day, there is one grand reality in Christian theology, if Christian theology is correct, in it’s teaching that one God created all of the scientific world, then it makes sense that the way the scientific world is to be best understood would not conflict with theology.

Theological explanations of life and scientific explanations of life should not be far afield. Third, on a number of overlapping levels, dualistic thinking, is a grave danger into which Christians regularly fall and sometimes even jump with unreflective cries of triumphalism. Dividing the created order into two realms for decision making and value assessment has contributed to much unnecessary damage in both of those realms.

Whether or not one agrees with Green’s precise solution to the problem of overzealous dualistic thinking, I think all should admit that he is correct to challenge Christians to do better at thinking about the unified life given us by the Creator. In fact, I might even state the problem of dualistic thinking in even stronger terms than Green has done today.

I propose that dualistic thinking is one of the greatest failings of Christians today, and we should be proactive in challenging that unbiblical habit. Having begun with these significant points of agreements between us, I would like to craft the remainder of my response to Green’s paper by noting some points of disagreement and admitted you’d be disappointed if I didn’t do that. I’ve grouped my remarks into two primary areas of concern.

First, difficult distinctions to maintain in this discussion and second, some New Testament passages that are difficult for monistic views. It’s perhaps already evidence that on the continuum between various monastic views on one side and dualistic views on the other, I think we should strive to avoid the most extreme options and we need to think of humans as some sort of complex unity, someplace in the middle of the continuum.

Because of this, I appreciate the way in which Green has phrased the question elsewhere, quote, “our soul and body indivisible, even if conceptually “or rhetorically distinguishable, “or are they divisible, even if functionally “or ideally inseparable?” This phrasing helps us avoid the extremism of a platonic or Cartesian dualism on the one side, without going to the extreme of Spinoza’s Monism on the other side.

And this kind of phrasing helps us converse more effectively with one another. But this kind of phrasing is a discipline that can be difficult for us to maintain as we discuss these matters. Let me comment on three particular difficult distinctions. First, we should notice that the widespread agreement on what Green calls quote, “the essential unity of human existence, “is not really the same thing as monism.”

One does not need to be an ontological monist to insist upon the essential unity of human existence. Indeed, those who are dualist regarding human ontology, can still hold to and passionately insist upon, the essential unity of human existence. After all, we have plenty of analogies of multiple part things that operate as Unities. Things as complex as automobiles, computers and cell phones and things as simple as ballpoint pens, belts and eyeglasses. Things can have a fundamental ontological multiplicity and a functional operational unity at the same time.

Thus there is a basic false dichotomy in the suggestion that seeing humans as operational Unities, like the list of New Testament scholars to whom Green refers, requires an ontological monism. No one would insist that cell phones consist of one and only one type of material or that they would not operate as Unities unless they were composed of one single component. Why should we insist that the only way human beings can function as unities is if they consist of one and only one type of substance. In this regard, I don’t know of any Christian ontological dualists who deny that humans are complete entities and not mere composites of parts.

In fact, the noted New Testament scholar, NT Wright offers an extended description of a variety of dualisms, and he’s clear about the dangers of dualistic thinking, and yet Wright admits of an ontological duality that makes sense of scripture passages that are otherwise problematic for understanding human composition. Thus, ontological dualists should not all be described in the extreme as though they all have positions that are contrary to human operational unity.

Likewise, the second difficult distinction lies on the other side of the continuum where ontological monists should not all be described in the extreme either. Perhaps some find it ironic that in his discussion of medical anthropology, Green offers a complaint about western readers of the Bible, who have tended, quote, “have tended to focus on a diagnosis “of a presenting problem and its resolution, “in terms oriented toward the physical body”, end quote.

The apparent irony of course, is that we expect a monistic theory of human composition to gravitate toward physical explanations. And yet Green levels of complaints against the mere physicalism of the contemporary west and argues for thinking about sickness, quote, “in more holistic ways”, end quote. Green’s description of leprosy and the New Testament is in a more than physical term.

It’s refreshing and seems to entail some sort of duality with an operational unity. But here in, Green distinguishes his view away from extreme monistic physicalism. My double point here then, is that Monists do not have a corner on treating humans as unities and that they themselves can get into some verbal trouble describing their own monistic views as unities of multiple aspects that they otherwise are thought to deny.

A third difficult distinction over which to watch our words has to do with how we assess the word usage of first century writers. Or any writer for that matter. As Green has noted, there are many passages where the word soul, [speaking Greek], can correctly be translated as life or whole person or self. But these uses do not render other uses out of bounds. It’s entirely possible for a single writer to use the word soul, [speaking Greek] to mean life or person in one passage, and then to use it to mean the non physical self in another passage.

Furthermore, besides single terms for soul, there are other ways for writers to communicate a dualistic anthropology. Long ago the New Testament scholar Robert Gundry, pointed out the abundance of two distinct kinds of New Testament passages that support an ontological dualism. The death and afterlife passages, and then other more general dichotomous descriptions, about human composition. And Gundry noted that only the brief letters of 1st John, 2nd John and Jude lacks such dualistic representations.

So the observation that the first century world contained a variety of representations, regarding human composition is true enough as Green puts it, no single conception of the soul held sway in the New Testament world, and the body soul relationship was variously assessed among philosophers and physicians in antiquity, end quote. “But this observation does not preclude the New Testament “from expressing a more specific view “than the variety of views in the world around them.”

I appreciate Green’s expression that it is indeed possible to find interpretations of the New Testament that affirmed dualistic portraits of the human creature. The real question then, is whether or not the New Testament writers intended to express a particular view regarding the metaphysics of human composition. So I’ll quickly make some comments about some difficult New Testament passages. There are three kinds of Scripture passages that pose difficulties for monistic anthologies, and less so for dualistic anthologies.

These include passages that set the body and soul in contradistinction to one another, passages that deal with the issues of continued identity after life, sorry, identity after death. And third passages that treat the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity in Jesus of Nazareth. The first kind of passage is, Matthew 10:28, falls into that real nicely. No one argues that Matthew always and only uses the term [speaking Greek] to meet a metaphysical, non material soul and contradistinction to the physical material body.

The converse arguments about Matthew’s use of the term [speaking Greek] in other Matthian passages is not the point. The real question is, how does it use in Matthew 1028? Well Green might be correct, that the differently worded parallel passage in Luke 12 can be read with a more holistic view of human composition, reading from Luke to Matthew does not render Matthew’s use of [speaking Greek] as the vitality of the body as if [speaking Greek] in Matthew 10:28 is simply another way to refer to the life of the body.

Here’s how that translation could come out then, don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the vitality of the body. If on a monistic view the body is the person, what’s the difference between killing the body and killing the life of the body? For the monist, does not kill the body mean the same thing as kill the life of the body? So there seems to be a slight failure there. Second, our passages dealing with the issues of continued identity of after death.

Since Dr. Green’s paper did not touch on this topic, very extensively, I think I’ll skip most of what I have to say on that. Merely, let me let me make this remark. Monists do recognize the need to tidy up their view with regard to those particular kind of passages.

We’re talking about to be absent from the bodies, to be present with the Lord, today you’ll be with me in paradise, those kinds of passages, Monists have… I’ve found five different ways that monists have tried to get around those passages to try to make sense of those. Maybe that will come up in the panel discussion time.

Let me go quickly to the third kind of passage that is difficult for monist to grapple with, and that has to do with the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity in the man Jesus Christ. I’m thinking of Colossians 1, 2nd Corinthians 4, Hebrews 1 and 2, Philippians 2 and even Luke chapter 1 verse 35.

Simply put understanding humans as ontological unities of material substance with a spiritual substance that allows for a robust doctrine of the Trinity. So dualism allows for robust doctrine of the incarnation. But monistic views of human composition, have difficulty with it. In the passages in 1st Peter where Christ bodily bore our sins on the tree, if Christ is only physical and nothing more, how can that Christ be the same one who inspired the prophets long before he existed?

To be sure the very real bodily suffering of Christ is central to Christian teaching and I don’t know of any Christian ontological dualist who would want to claim anything differently. But that is just the point on a dualist ontology because humans are uniquely spiritual and physical Unities, there’s a way for the incarnation to be real. The second person of the Trinity can take on human flesh and be really human.

A monist explanation of humanity has no place for a spiritual being to actually be incorporated into a physical body. So with some irony then, Gilbert rials charge against substance dualists as those believing in a ghost in a machine, comes back to haunt the Christian monists. For they the best they can do is to explain the incarnation of Jesus as some kind of radical dualism, that’s a holy ghost in a machine.

I agree with my monistic friends like Joel Green that there is serious problem with dualistic thinking and I would like us to solve that dualistic thinking problem. But the problem of dualism is not found in the ontological dualistic nature of the uniqueness of being human, the problem is with dualistic thinking that avoids unified living. Thus the solution to the problem is not found in giving up the dualist ontology, but in adjusting the way we think, and speak, and act.

My first conversation with Joel Green was in the early 1990s in the telephone while we were 2000 miles apart, now 20 years later, we’re working on very similar ideas while serving in the same state at institutions, just down the road from one another. Even so it looks like our ideas are still a few miles apart, but I’d like to think that the trip would be worthwhile although travel here in California takes a lot of time. So let’s see where the interaction takes us in the next 20 years. Thank you. [audience claps]