Human Beings as Body and Soul
Three days a week I suffer torture under the tutelage of my personal trainer at Gold’s Gym. He is my private Pharaoh, my singular Simon Legree. Cardiovascular exercise, the pumping of iron, and the wretched contortions of stretch routines are part of my regimen. All of this despite the knowledge Scripture yields: “For bodily exercise profits a little” (1 Timothy 4:8)!
As I worry about my body, its weight, appearance, and health, I am reminded of the words of Jesus, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Both body and soul are created by God and are distinct aspects of our personal makeup. The biblical view of human beings differs sharply from early Greek views. Our body and soul make up a duality, not a dualism. In Greek dualistic theories the body and soul are seen as incompatible substances that coexist in constant tension. They are fundamentally incompatible. Usually, dualism asserts that there is something inherently evil or imperfect about anything physical and therefore sees the body as an evil container for the pure soul. For the Greek, salvation ultimately meant redemption from the body when the soul is finally released from the prison house of the flesh.
The biblical view of the body is that it is created good and has no inherent evil in its physical substance. Yet it suffers from moral corruption just like the soul. Human beings are sinful in both body and soul. Christianity, far from teaching redemption from the body, teaches redemption of the body.
As a duality, human beings are one entity with two distinct parts united by God’s act of creation. There is no necessity, either philosophically or exegetically, to add a third part or substance (such as spirit) to bridge a dualistic tension. Orthodox theology rejects the trichotomous view of human beings, by which we are conceived of in three distinct parts: body, soul, and spirit.
Though many theologians have argued for the natural or essential immortality of the human soul, it is important to remember that the human soul is: (1) created by God and is not inherently eternal; (2) though not composed of matter and open to dissolution by physical forces, it is nevertheless capable of being destroyed by God. The soul cannot exist for a moment apart from the sustaining power of God. “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
At death, though the body dies, the soul of both the believer and unbeliever continues to live. Believers await the consummation of their redemption with the resurrection and glorification of their bodies, while the impenitent await the eternal judgment of God. Because God preserves the soul from death, human beings have a continuity of conscious personal existence beyond the grave. The whole person is fallen; both body and soul are the objects of God’s saving grace.
- Human beings have a material body and an immaterial soul.
- Human beings are a unity-in-duality. Christianity rejects the Greek notion of dualism.
- The human body is part of God’s good creation. Though it is fallen, as is the soul, neither are inherently evil.
- The human soul is not naturally eternal. It must be created and sustained by God.