Salvation 2.0: Part 2.3: The nature of humans

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The nature of humans

First, we need to understand that humans do not possess a soul that is innately immortal. I know your mom and dad and favorite Sunday school teacher taught you that, but they are mistaken. That particular teaching comes from Plato — a Greek philosopher from about 400 years before Jesus. It’s not found in the Bible.

school of philosophyThe early church did not teach that idea until well after the apostolic period, but over time, the Platonic school of thought was incorporated into the doctrine of the church.

In fact, there’s this famous painting by Raphael in the Vatican called the School of Philosophy, that reveres the secular Greek philosophers as sources of great truth — whereas Paul wrote,

(1Co 1:20 NIV) Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

One of the great mistakes in the history of Christianity was the blending of Judeo-Christian thought with pagan Greek philosophy. This led to many errors, one of which is a misunderstanding of the nature of man.

To Plato — and most philosophers since — man has a dual nature: physical and spiritual. Plato saw the physical part of mankind as debased and inherently weak and broken, whereas our spiritual part — our soul — is immortal and destined to live forever.

Among the Greeks, and many Christian sects, this thinking has led to a tendency to treat our physical bodies as impediments to salvation. Some Christians — especially among the Catholics — teach the mortification of the flesh, a type of asceticism that believes we achieve closer communion with God by minimizing the role of flesh in our lives.

For example, Martin Luther joined a Catholic sect that taught suffering from lashes — whips — lack of sleep, uncomfortable clothes, tasteless food, and other sufferings would lead to greater spirituality.

A few sects have taken the opposite approach and concluded that the flesh cannot be made good and so the effort is hopeless. This leads to antinomianism, a form of dualism in which the flesh is allowed to sin as it pleases. Surprisingly, over the years, asceticism has been far more popular than antinomianism — although both pop up in our churches.

For example, the idea that eating in the church building somehow renders the building unholy is sheer asceticism — because it assumes human pleasure — eating good food — is unholy.

I think the insistence of some on hot suits and choking neck ties is fed by ascetic thinking: surely God will be impressed by our suffering for his sake!

Then again, the idea that God doesn’t much care how we live our lives so long as we attend church on a regular basis and practice the Five Acts of Worship is sheer antinomianism — because it promises salvation without a truly transformed life.

Now, the truth of the matter is that —

* Immortality is a gift from God only for the saved.

* Humans are body, soul, and spirit — but these are all three aspects of the same singular person.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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22 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 2.3: The nature of humans

  1. Nathan says:

    I appreciate this post! I believe we must continually explore the ways in which external influences (culture, pagan philosophy, etc.) affect our walk with God. It is amazing how we can accept certain philosophical teachings, and even think them biblical, when we have never read them in philosophy or the Bible.

  2. Mark says:

    I think some of that had to do with the fact that the Greek translation of Hebrew was utilized more in Christianity than the original Hebrew (obtained from many sources). That said, most cofC sermons began with “if you have your Bibles, turn to B C:V (typically one of the Pauline letters) where we will begin.” I never heard Greek philosophers quoted or the background material mentioned that led to the letters being written to the Galatians, Corinthians, etc. in the first place. I think this would have resulted in people fainting or the preacher being fired.

    That said, the idea of repentance (teshuvah) is another one that seems to not make into sermons. Repentance is not achieved by responding to the invitation while singing “Just as I am.” Repentance has to do with the heart.

  3. Richard constant says:

    In m.
    y readings I haven’t seen any kind of a good answer.
    Mind you I’ve been looking for it.
    And I need an answer from someone who understands.
    The Scriptures the way that we have been alluding to.
    The curse of the cross.
    This is before reconciliation this is before restoration this is before the deliverance that God brought about after resurrection through his son.
    dishes understood and while Jesus was under the old law.
    This is before Jesus went to Hades I think that Acts 2:37
    this day you should be with me in paradise.
    I can understand that to be God’s rest.
    As in Genesis.
    as you have not developed an idea that corresponds to angels that live until the age of complete restoration…
    God is a God of the living.
    And Jesus said this day you shall be with me in paradise.

  4. Richard constant says:

    Just as a PS.
    Eternity is a compared to what I understand that compared to what compared to God who created the reality that we live in.
    This reality that we live in I understand is going to be folded up and unfolded in a new and living way that’s eternity a promise a better promise than old I understand that.
    But I also need an explanation.
    That takes into consideration these things.
    And just does not blatantly put a curtain over the top of all that were dead left physical life.
    And say that there is absolutely no way can’t be any life thereafter.
    When I seem to see blatant contradictory statements given by Jesus and Luke.
    To say nothing of understanding and putting into context.
    Chapter 11 of Hebrews.
    Thanks J you know sometimes it’s better just to say I don’t know if you can’t find it don’t try to run me around the rodeo track
    😉
    love you buddy talk to you later rich

  5. laymond says:

    Mat 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

    Jesus said that such things as you describe “would not prevail” in his church, yet you preach that it does.

    One of the great mistakes in the history of Christianity was the blending of Judeo-Christian thought with pagan Greek philosophy. This led to many errors, one of which is a misunderstanding of the nature of man.

    To Plato — and most philosophers since — man has a dual nature: physical and spiritual. Plato saw the physical part of mankind as debased and inherently weak and broken, whereas our spiritual part — our soul — is immortal and destined to live forever.

    Jay, with all of your recently aquired knowledge of God’s ways, please tell me where all the demons and devils came from in the bible, and why were they there.

    “Now, the truth of the matter is that —

    * Immortality is a gift from God only for the saved.

    * Humans are body, soul, and spirit — but these are all three aspects of the same singular

    So I guess you have given up on the indwelled holy ghost. I am at a loss as to what you really believe.

    As we read in the beginning of man, God first created the body, then God breathed life into the body creating the spirit, or life. therefore man became a living soul. I don’t see anywhere in scripture where man’s spirit is in danger of hellfire, but the soul defiantly is. We need to learn what the soul of man is, the soul is what man makes it. it is either for God, or against God. The spirit of man is reclaimed at death, and ascends back to God, the body and soul are dead, but the soul will be raised to judgment according to what is written in the book of life.

  6. Johnathon says:

    Jay,
    I am trying to understand your thinking. Do you believe the words soul and spirit, when referring to humans, essentially mean the same thing? Would you say you believe the following two statements:
    “Man does not have a spirit but rather is a spirit.”
    “Man does not have a body but rather is a body.”
    thank you

  7. Richard constant says:

    USfortunately for you guys, jay is right.
    I have a specific question.
    it’s absolutely unbelievable What the 2nd and 3rd and 4th century church brought in, and so incorporated into our theology that is called ontology boys.
    In the pureness of the gospel.
    it is the weaving of philosophy into that gospel.
    So We accept that philosophy as the gospel today.
    if you get back Epicureanism,That viewpoint also a stoic view point . To say nothing about the Sophist’S to say nothing about AristotleISM to say nothing about Neo-platonists
    You also find out a lot more the truth about what we quote unquote believed to be The truth
    when all of the newfound manuscripts are compared.
    might be a good idea to start learning what you’re missing

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnathan,

    “Spirit” and “soul” are fairly plastic terms in the NT and OT. Tomorrow’s post will cover in some detail. Sometimes a person is referred to as a “soul” or a “spirit” (often hidden in translation) (five souls died today). But “soul” and “spirit” often refer to some aspect of the person. Someone can have a “spirit of zeal” — so that “spirit” might mean “attitude” or “emotional state.” Or it can be that person’s life force (“he gave up the spirit” means he died).

    Just so, I can lament from the depths of my soul — so that “soul” means my innermost thoughts, feeling, or being.

    But these words don’t refer to a metaphysically distinct, separable part of your being that will live eternally.

  9. Richard constant says:

    TO be more specific even therefore and what For….JAY
    I understand that the only reason that we get a turn a life this week because we get God’S Eternal spirit for the Spirit of Christ, and we share in his brotherhood, through righteous faithfulness.
    so in a sense or what I would call from this creations perspective.
    There is no eternity.
    Until the resurrection of Jesus.
    So when you explain the abode of the dead Hades when you explain paradise I understand that not to be eternal.
    Although there is a judgement where the dead are all raised.
    Exactly who are the dead.
    I think that this understood correctly and I hope you do.
    Presents a problem with interpretation of what is truly alive and what is truly not alive, and how long this life is, this, reality, and I would say that is reality will last as long as this creation that we live in is still in God’s mind. which would be up until the judgment and the body of Christ fully realizeD in the newFully Restored creation.
    is still in god’s mind. New line

  10. Johnathon says:

    Jay,
    If your view (man does not have a soul or spirit distinct from the body) is correct, what exactly visited Saul and the Witch of Endor?
    thanks,

  11. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnathan,

    Here’s the text you refer to —

    (1 Sam 28:12–19 ESV) 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 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.”

    It’s strange passage, esp. given that the Torah prohibits necromancy and mediums. And the description is hardly as detailed as we want. But what the text clearly says is that it was Samuel himself that Saul spoke with, looking like Samuel and wearing clothes that marked him as Samuel. And the text refers to this being as “Samuel,” not his ghost or spirit or soul. It’s just “Samuel.”

    Now, I think most readers conclude that God chose to let the witch call up Samuel from Sheol (the realm of the dead).

    V. 13 is a translation challenge as the Hebrew for “god” is elohim, referring either to God or a god or “gods”. The form of the word is plural but it is often used of YHWH himself as a singular. The NIV translates “a ghostly figure” which is simply irresponsible. There is nothing in the text saying “ghost.” The word can also be translated “judges.” But it has to be plural, which seems unlikely, and so the ESV seems right.

    So this passage presents the same challenge as the Transfiguration — dead people are called from Sheol to appear on earth. Same thing happens in Matthew’s gospel after Jesus’ death.

    But none of these refer to disembodied souls or spirits or ghosts. Rather, these are embodied beings, insofar as the text gives any real answers.

    Now, there are two ways of looking at these:

    1. These people exist in heaven awaiting the general resurrection. They are presently disembodied but will be re-embodied at the resurrection. In the in-between time (now), God can and occasionally does re-embody the faithful dead.

    2. God and heaven exist outside of time (as we experience time). The dead pass straight from death to Judgment/resurrection. We all arrive at Judgment/resurrection at once. Hence, the dead who occasionally visit the living are post-resurrection beings, and they appear in their glorified (Jesus-like) bodies. This is why Moses and Elijah appeared as physical beings but glorified on the Mount of Transfiguration. This is why Samuel appeared as a god to the witch.

    The Bible does not bother to give us much detail on the situation of the faithful between death and the general resurrection. But the pictures of the general resurrection, esp. in Paul, are very vivid and speak of our having bodies like Jesus’ post-resurrection body and being glorified.

    I tend to favor view 2, but can’t be dogmatic. From the perspective of those left on earth, the dead seem to sleep — which is the most common metaphor for the dead pre-resurrection — although the ancients knew as well as we do that bodies decay and turn to dust.

    I’ve had surgeries in which the anesthesia turned off my biological clock. I had no sense of time passing and work up thinking I was still in the surgical suite waiting on the doctor. Very weird feeling, but I think it’s going to be something like that.

    This avoids any need for a holding tank for spirits pending judgment. We pass straight to judgment, we’re all judged at once, and we receive reward or punishment — and we pass into eternity. Time is simply a non-issue to God, and if wants to let the post-resurrection Samuel visit Saul, he can easily do so.

  12. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Laymond,

    I delayed responding because I thought today’s post would answer many of your questions.

    The Holy Spirit is not the same thing at all as a human’s spirit. My spirit is simply my breath/life, but the word can also be used of my emotional state or character, as in, “He has a spirit of great zeal.”

    All living humans have a spirit. Only the saved possess the Holy Spirit — a being which is part of the Triune God.

  13. Johnathon says:

    Jay,
    There are issues with view 2. If this was Samuel’s resurrected body that visited them, why could only the woman see it. Also, Samuel asking Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” implies he was resting. I do not think it naturally leads one to think he was a resurrected being with God in heaven. The woman saying this “god” appeared as an old man wearing a robe does not definitely prove she saw resurrected body. I suspect, even though I can’t prove it, the woman saw a disembodied spirit that appeared to her as an old man wearing a robe. If we had the ability to see spirits I suspect they would appear to be something recognizable not amorphous figure or gas.
    just a few of my thoughts on the matter…
    thanks,

  14. Johnathon says:

    Also, I was wondering have you ever read C.S. Lewis A Grief Observed.

  15. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnathon,

    I don’t think you’re going to find an explanation that has no problems. It’s an odd, odd passage. It just is.

    But there is nothing in the text about souls or spirits or ghosts. The appearance is called “Samuel,” not “Samuel’s soul” and it wears clothes and talks audibly to human ears.

    Heb 4 refers to our hope and inheritance post-resurrection as “rest.” See my earlier comment today on that topic. So it’s no surprise that Samuel complains about being disturbed. Who, having gone to the presence of God, would enjoy having to deal with a crazy Saul and a necromancer?

    The OT refers to the dead as being in Sheol, which is often a reference to the grave. To “bring up” is to raise from the dead. It’s accommodationist language, that is, Samuel is speaking in terms that Saul would understand. To say “bring me from the new heavens and new earth” before Isaiah was written would have been utter nonsense.

    Elohim fits better with glorified bodies than a disembodied soul. Of course, it’s just a difficult word no matter what your interpretation. But Dan 12 says the saved will be resurrected to shine like stars.

    There is no explanation for why she could see this apparition and Saul could not — except we know that Jesus after his resurrection could walk through locked doors and be unrecognizable to even his closest friends. Hence, this is not too surprising for a resurrected person. But why would the witch see a “soul” and Saul not?

    I’d rather grant unusual, supernatural powers to Samuel as a resurrected being than to the witch. I don’t believe the witch has any magical powers. I think God decided to send Samuel back to confront Saul.

  16. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Regarding A Grief Observed, no, I’ve not. I’ve read most of Lewis, but not that one.

  17. Johnathon says:

    Jay,
    Thank you for the reply.
    A Grief Observed was written after his wife died of cancer. His wife’s death had a very profound impact on him. The experience almost destroyed his faith. I recommend it for being a very heart touching account of a Christian living through a very powerful grief.
    I mentioned the book in regards to this topic because towards the end of the book he writes about being visited by the spirit of his deceased wife. What he writes is extremely interesting. Now, I do not pretend to know whether the account is true or not. But, I am curious as to what a conditionalist thinks about claims of Christians encountering the spirits of deceased people.
    thanks,

  18. Johnathon says:

    You and your readers might be interested to know the visitation, if true, was one of at least three miracles that happened to CS Lewis.

  19. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnathon,

    Thanks. CS Lewis was no denier of modern day miracles — unlike so many in the Churches of Christ. I stumbled across this from JB Phillips, author of the highly influential Phillips Translation —

    Sometimes the most profound experiences happen in surprisingly matter of fact ways. At a time when he felt completely stuck in his work of preparing his translation of the New Testament, and utterly depressed in his life and faith, J. B. Phillips records how the recently deceased C. S. Lewis suddenly stood before him, having entered his bedroom through closed doors. In this vision experience, Lewis spoke just one short sentence to Phillips: “J. B., it’s not as hard as you think!” This “appearance” was precisely what was needed to draw Phillips out of his depression, and to set him free again to continue his life’s work.

    http://www.ruachministries.org/valeoftears/p8fresistingmakingcontact.htm

  20. JES says:

    Does Jesus’s parable of lazarus and the rich man shed any further light on this topic?

  21. Johnathon says:

    Jay,
    Thanks for the reference.
    CS Lewis’s experience had a similar effect on him. He writes: “Wherever it came from, it has made a sort of spring cleaning in my mind.”

  22. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    JES,

    We’ve covered this is some detail in previous discussions. Most commentators, even those with no interest in the Conditionalism argument, take Jesus’ parable as not describing the real nature of heaven and hell. It’s a story that makes a point — but it’s not speaking of the true nature of the afterlife.

    (Luke 16:19–31 ESV) 19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

    Consider these elements of the story —

    1. Lazarus was in “the bosom of Abraham.” That is, he was laying on a couch eating in front of Abraham from a banquet. This obviously parallels the sumptuous lifestyle of the rich man — but do we expect this literally in heaven? And if so, why is it just Lazarus with this place of honor? And why Abraham? Do Gentiles get the same position of honor? In fact, to die to go to “Abraham’s bosom” was a saying common at the time for going to heaven — and was not meant literally. Jesus uses it with a literal-esque twist to show Lazarus receiving what he failed to receive on earth.
    2. People in agony in Hades can talk to people in heaven. Really?
    3. People in heaven can hear the discussions from those in agony and talk back with them.
    4. There is a “great chasm” between Abraham’s bosom and the flames of Hades, and yet they can talk to each other.
    5. Abraham takes on the role of God. He is not made God but he says the words that most of us would place on lips of God. Why is Abraham the spokesman for heaven? Because this is how the ancient Jews saw things in legend.
    6. The rich man wanted literal water to quench the burning — but it’s unlikely eternal fires are doused with water. Rather, according to Jewish legend, the faithful in Hades (Sheol, where the dead are) live by an eternal spring of water. After all, these were desert people. The damned in Hades were burned in flames. Jesus is following the legendary understanding of Sheol.

    That is, Jesus was working within an incomplete, flawed understanding of the afterlife to teach a lesson, using the legends First Century Jews told each other to brilliantly make a point. But the lesson is not about the true nature of the afterlife. It’s about how we should treat each other in this life — and a prophecy that the Jews would, on the whole, reject Jesus.

    The bosom of Abraham was regarded as the place of highest bliss. According to Jewish legends of the martyrdom of the mother and her seven sons (2 Maccabees 7), the martyrs were brought to the bosom of Abraham.183 Interpreters are divided on the issue of whether both the rich man and Lazarus were in Hades (following the older concept of Hades as the place of the dead, both righteous and wicked) or whether only the rich man is in Hades while Lazarus is in paradise (cf. 23:43). Hades was regarded as the place where the dead awaited the final judgment, and by the first century it was thought to be divided into various regions according to people’s moral state:

    Rufael, one of the holy angels, who was with me, responded to me; and he said to me, “These beautiful corners (are here) in order that the spirits of the souls of the dead should assemble into them—they are created so that the souls of the children of the people should gather here. They prepared these places in order to put them (i.e. the souls of the people) there until the day of their judgment and the appointed time of the great judgment upon them. . . . These three have been made in order that the spirits of the dead might be separated. And in the manner in which the souls of the righteous are separated (by) this spring of water with light upon it, in like manner, the sinners are set apart when they die and are buried in the earth and judgment has not been executed upon them in their lifetime.” (1 Enoch 22)184

    For the righteous there is a spring of water, which is always associated with paradise in the Jewish and Christian apocalypses. Regardless of whether Lazarus was in Hades or not, Lazarus and Abraham were in sight of the rich man, who was already experiencing the torment that awaited him. Being “in the bosom” of Abraham may imply that Lazarus was the honored guest at the eschatological banquet, feasting while the rich man was in torment. How ironically the table has turned. …

    The chasm that now separates the rich man and Lazarus confirms the finality of the judgment on the rich man. A similar vision of the place of the dead is described in 4 Ezra 7:36: “Then the pit of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of Hell shall be disclosed, and opposite it the paradise of delight.” Once there was no chasm but indifference and apathy. The rich man could have come to Lazarus at any time. Now, however, the chasm that separates them prevents Lazarus from responding to the rich man’s torment with compassion and removes any possibility that the rich man might escape his torment. The rich man has shut himself off from Lazarus, and now no one can reach him.

    R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” in The Gospel of Luke-The Gospel of John (vol. 9 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), n.p.

    This parable is often taken as instruction on “the intermediate state” (cf. Cooper, Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting, 136–39), often with reference to the state of a disembodied soul; or as a manifestation of Luke’s “individual eschatology” (Dupont, “Individuelle Eschatologie”; contra Carroll, End of History, 64–68). Although this text probably assumes an intermediate state (though this is denied by Dupont, “Individuelle Eschatologie,” 47), (1) it does so largely in order to make use of the common motif of the “messenger to the living from the dead” (on which see Bauckham, “Rich Man and Lazarus,” 236–44), only to deny the sending of a messenger; (2) the notion of the disembodied existence of a soul must be read into the story since the characters in Hades act as human agents with a corporeal existence; (3) T. Abr. 20:14—where the bosom of Abraham and his descendants are already in paradise, yet Abraham is to be taken to paradise—bears witness to the lack of precision in statements about the afterlife; and (4) neither Luke nor other Christian writers (like Paul) seem to think that discussion of the fate of an individual negates a more thoroughgoing apocalyptic (corporate, future) eschatology.

    Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997).

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