Body and Soul

Man in Boat“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Matthew 10:28

Some visitors to our website express surprise to find articles here on the nature of mankind. What is a website that deals with the integration of Christian faith and modern science doing talking about this age-old philosophical questions of the nature of human makeup? Hasn't this question been solved long ago? Don't all Christians believe in the immortal soul? Didn't Christ teach, as illustrated by our leading passage from Mathew, that people have immortal souls?

With recent scientific research on the human body and brain, the long held Christian paradigm of the “dualistic” nature of mankind is coming under increasing challenge and stress. Those who have taken the body/soul concept for granted in their Christian experience need to prepare for some stormy times ahead! Just as millions of people lost their Christian experience when science began to challenge certain perceived propositions of scripture on creation and the age of the Earth, it is my belief that many Christians are about to loose their faith due to the scientific discoveries about the human brain.

If the idea that people have an immortal soul is so tightly integrated into a person's Christian belief system, to the point where it would be difficult to conceive of the afterlife promised by scripture without that soul, people are likely to loose their way! Because people believe so firmly that the Bible teaches that we have immortal souls, if science demonstrates that people do not have a soul, Christians are once again going to have a major crisis of faith in scripture and be in danger of giving up all faith in God completely! This is why this is one of our major themes of discussion here at Timeless Themes. A storm is coming and Christians need to be prepared!
Some readers may have already picked up that I lean toward “monism”, the belief that people are primarily physical in nature, that our minds, our personality, emotions, memories, volition, and identity are all tightly integrated in a holistic relationship to our physical bodies, chemistry and brain cells, much the way modern science is discovering. Some may suspect that as a result, my articles here at Timeless Themes will likely show that bias throughout. While it is true that I grew up in a faith-tradition (Seventh-day Adventism) that believes in the monistic nature of mankind, I need to admit that there have been times in my life when I have flirted with the ideas of dualism. Some of life's experiences come with such emotional intensity, it can be tempting to associate these deep experiences with a kind of “personal awareness” that runs deeper then hormones and neurons alone! I am very much a product of the larger culture in which I grew up. I have not been totally immune to the more alluring seductions of new age ideas. I am totally aware that about 90% of all people-groups that have lived on this earth, including most Christian denominations, have believed in the dualistic nature of mankind. In some respects I might even say that I have not totally made up my own mind on the issue and am finding the experience of researching and writing on the subject very rewarding and educational. In some sense there must be something that sets us apart from the great apes, who have much same physical neural network that we do.  There must be something about us that makes us "self-aware", in a way that our greatest computers are not.  There is something that gives two identical twins different identities and personalities.

This is not a debate that I will treat lightly in our discussion here. I will do my best to present all positions fairly and objectively.

Ultimately, we will most likely conclude that just like the issues of Creation and the age of the Earth are not in any way tied to one's salvation, so also is a person's position on the nature of mankind not likely to effect whether they are saved or not. Theologians would say that the issue is not “salvific” in nature. One of the reasons we believe it important enough to discuss here at all is because of the potential it may soon have to cause people to have a crisis of faith. We want to show people how it is totally possible to have a firm belief in the inspiration of scripture and a total faith in the afterlife promised in scripture, without having to believe in an immortal soul. If and when science overwhelmingly proves that people are physical entities alone, sincere Christians need not loose their faith!

So what to do with our leading passage of scripture? Doesn’t this passage prove that Jesus taught that people have an immortal soul? Well, actually no, it doesn't. In fact it gives clear evidence to the contrary! Note that Jesus warns people that we need to fear Him who can destroy  the “soul” in hell. We will deal with this passage more in depth in a separate essay, but for now, it is interesting to note that the “soul”, whatever we interpret this to mean, is at the very least, NOT immortal, and for many will be brought into a state of destruction, or non-existence, by God.  (A careful consideration of this passage may also give new insights against the proposal that some have made for an everlasting Hellfire.  But that is a topic for another time!)

The message of Jesus here in this passage is most likely best understood, not as a teaching on the nature of man, but as an encouragement, especially when read in context, not to worry about persecution. We need not fear people or governments. Even if they kill us, that has nothing to do with our eternal destiny! Only God, the one who stands as a judge of our life, has anything to do with our eternal destiny. Ultimately, He is the only one we need to fear, respect and honor.  He is the one that is in charge of what happens to our person in the afterlife!