We now come to one of the primary points of application for the data of biblical anthropology, the mind-body problem. Before sketching the various views for you, let’s review the salient data from the biblical text.
1. That terms like ruach, nephesh, leb/lebab are not divisible into parts is evident from an examination of these OT terms. Part 4 of our biblical anthropology series summarizes the overlapping of ruach and nephesh, and Part 6 brings leb/lebab into that discussion.
2. We saw that the fusion of body and the immaterial/inner aspect of humanity was so tight as to have both “parts” refer to the entire person. In earlier posts, this was seen when terms like nephesh were used of the body, living or dead, while elsewhere (mostly) referring to the inner person. Indeed, nephesh was seen to be a broad term for the entire human being and human life.
3. However, despite the above, the terms ruach and leb were less seldom (if ever) used to refer to the totality of the human person. Those terms soke of the inner person / inner life. Moreover, there were two passages that seemed (with some clarity) to suggest that the immaterial part of humanity had an independent existence after death and an identification with what had been the total person. Those two passages were Eccl 3:21 and Eccl. 12:7. Taking a closer look, though, the first of these is not such a good reference point for the “soul” departing to another life:
Eccl. 3:19-21 – 19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?
The passage merely brings up the question; it does not put forth the proposition. There is an air of uncertainty or even skepticism in the passage about the soul’s afterlife.
Eccl. 12:7 is much more propositional:
. . . the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
This text is incomplete, though, with respect to the more clear New Testament notion of a disembodied soulish existence beyond the body where the soul is effectively identified with the (formerly united / total) person (see below for the NT). Eccl. 12:7 could merely be construed as saying that “life” (the “life principle”; that which animated the body) returns to the Maker. In other words, it’s more abstract than NT statements.
A New Passage
At this point, though, I’d like to add another passage for consideration. This passage (and verse 13 in particular) is controversial with some evangelicals, but it isn’t controversial at all to Semitists or those familiar with how Israelite religion dovetails with a broad ancient Near Eastern worldview. Take note of 1 Samuel 28:8-20
8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you. 9 The woman said to him, Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death? 10 But Saul swore to her by the Lord, As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing. 11 Then the woman said, Whom shall I bring up for you? He said, Bring up Samuel for me. 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, Why have you deceived me? You are Saul. 13 The king said to her, Do not be afraid. What do you see? And the woman said to Saul, I see a god (elohim) coming up out of the earth. 14 He said to her, What is his appearance? And she said, An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe. And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage. 15 Then Samuel said to Saul, Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up? Saul answered, I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do. 16 And Samuel said, Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines. 20 Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel . . .
At some point I’ll post about why Samuel is referred to as elohim here. In a nutshell, elohim does *not* refer to a set of attributes, though we are used to thinking of it that way since it is so often used as the proper name (or reference to) God. Rather, it is a term of classification: elohim are by nature (a) disembodied) and (b) inhabitants of the “spiritual world”. After death, Samuel is an elohim (as are all the dead). Other ANE cultures use the same term to refer to the human dead or any such entity classified as “not by nature an inhabitant of the human world.”
The implications are important. This passage has the disembodied Samuel as Samuel. The “soulish” part of Samuel is still Samuel. There is indeed no hint in the passage that this isn’t Samuel. He speaks the Lord’s word and it all comes to pass. This passage (and more importantly, the worldview that goes with it) is strong evidence from the OT for the belief that the disembodied dead were still viewed as the person he/she was when embodied in earthly life.
New Testament Data
There are several passages in the New Testament that reinforce and sharpen the idea that the disembodied inner part of a human being departs the body and goes somewhere (to be with the Lord in the examples below) and continues to exist as the person that formerly existed in the former life, when there was unity with the body:
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Here we have mention of an “afterlife assembly.” The fact that this passage is in Hebrews 12, which begins by saying We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, just after an entire chapter (11) was spent on Old Testament saints who had died sets the context for these verses. There is the suggestion that those who have died and gone before have some awareness of what is going on in the earth.
Luke 23:43 (Jesus to the thief on the cross):
Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.
Philippians 1:23-24 (Paul speaking about living and dying)
23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
I doubt whether Paul would have had as much enthusiasm if he believed he had no personal existence waiting for him with Jesus. Seems pretty clear he believed his “inner part” would be with Christ and he would still be himself.
2 Cor 5:6-9 (ditto the above)
6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
Rev 6:9-11 (similar idea to Hebrews 12)
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
It seems a safe conclusion that biblical theology teaches the immaterial part of a person:
1. Can exist apart from the body.
2. Retains the “personhood” of the united flesh + immaterial unity it had in terrestrial life.
3. Is therefore a separate thing from the body, though its “natural” state is to be united with the body.
Applying this to the Mind-Body Debate
For those who want a more thorough overview of this debate and all the options, click here. I’ll be presenting only a summary of the views and issues, drawn from the above link (a Wikipedia article).
Philosophy of mind is a branch of modern analytic philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain. The mind-body problem, i.e. the relationship of the mind to the body, is commonly seen as the central issue in philosophy of mind, although there are other issues concerning the nature of the mind that do not involve its relation to the physical body.
Dualism and monism are the two major approaches.
Dualism: the body and mind / consciousness / soul are separate.
Monism: mind / consciousness / soul and body are not ontologically distinct. The former is a property of the latter.
Branches of Dualism:
Substance Dualists argue that the mind is an independently existing substance. This is the view most often traditionally identified with the “biblical” view.
Branches of Monism:
Physicalists argue that only the entities postulated by physical theory exist, and that the mind will eventually be explained in terms of these entities as physical theory continues to evolve.
* This view of physicalism is ontologically reductionist, as it reduces mental states and processes into physical states and processes.
The earliest forms of physicalism, growing historically out of materialism, were reductionist. But after Donald Davidson introduced the concept of supervenience to physicalism, non-reductionist physicalism became more popular.
Non-reductive physicalism is the idea that while mental states are physical they are not reducible to physical properties. Donald Davidson proposed anomalous monism as a non-reductive physicalism. Supervenience physicalism (also proposed by Donald Davidson) is a non-reductive physicalism, as mental events supervene (i.e., physical properties are identical to mental properties) on physical events rather than mental events reducing to physical events. For example if we accept supervenience physicalism, the pain someone would feel if electrocuted would supervene on the firing of their c-fibres. If we accept reductive physicalism, the pain would be those c-fibres firing.
* This view has evangelical proponents.
What drives the discussion other than the Bible (especially nowadays)? Brain science. From the Wikipedia article:
Within the field of neurobiology, there are many subdisciplines which are concerned with the relations between mental and physical states and processes: Sensory neurophysiologyinvestigates the relation between the processes of perception and stimulation. Cognitive neuroscience studies the correlations between mental processes and neural processes.Neuropsychology describes the dependence of mental faculties on specific anatomical regions of the brain. Lastly, evolutionary biology studies the origins and development of the human nervous system and, in as much as this is the basis of the mind, also describes the ontogenetic and phylogenetic development of mental phenomena beginning from their most primitive stages.
The methodological breakthroughs of the neurosciences, in particular the introduction of high-tech neuroimaging procedures, has propelled scientists toward the elaboration of increasingly ambitious research programs: one of the main goals is to describe and comprehend the neural processes which correspond to mental functions. . . .
So which is it? If all truth derives from God, general and special revelation need to meet. This is what I want us to think about. And one more wildcard in this: does the Bible have any clear view on where/how the “soul” (inner part) originates? One of the views commonly discussed in theology books is traducianism, the notion that human parents create BOTH material and immaterial parts when they have children. If that is the case (and I’m not assuming it is), is physicalism (of any variety) the right way to go? If so, how do we deal with the distinction of immaterial part and physical flesh?