Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Inner Being: Paul, His Theological Context, and the Error of Anthropological Monism

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.
Among certain heterodox groups such as Seventh Day Adventism, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, and so-called ‘biblical’ unitarianism there is a rejection of the traditional dualistic anthropology held by orthodox Protestantism. These groups reject the notion that humanity is comprised of an immaterial spirit or soul and a physical body, and insist that a human being is comprised solely of a physical body. This view, known as physicalism or anthropological monism (henceforth AM) is no longer restricted to cults, but has made inroads among some conservative Protestants.
On the AM view, there exists no intermediate state between this life and the resurrection wherein the dead are conscious in immaterial form. Instead, the only part of the dead which exists is a corpse that will effectively cease to exist upon decay. So too, this view requires that resurrection is actually re-creation, since death entails a cessation of personal existence. The moniker “soul sleep” is a misnomer as the dead are not asleep, but are, aside from the temporary existence of their physical remains, completely non-existent. At resurrection, God will re-create the dead as opposed to the orthodox understanding where the conscious dead are reunited with their physical body by way of resurrection.
AM has massive theological implications and requires a hermeneutic that is unlike that of classical inerrantist Protestantism. For that reason, a consideration of AM in light of Scripture is due. However, for this study I will consider only the anthropology of Paul, assuming that his understanding of the human constitution is like that of his Lord.
The post-conversion Paul declared, “I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees,” and he identified that he, like the Pharisees, possessed a belief in the resurrection of the dead.[1] Luke then records that the Sadducees “say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.”[2] The theological context in which the apostle Paul came was second temple Pharisaic Judaism. This tradition was explicitly dualistic and its eschatology was built upon dualism.
Jospehus, a self-professed Pharisee who lived contemporaneous with Paul described the Pharisees saying,
They also believe that souls have an immortal vigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again.[3]
Josephus’ characterization of Pharisaic anthropology is confirmed by Hipploytus, 170-235 AD, who noted that the Pharisees affirm that “souls are immortal.”[4] So too, a variety of second temple literature also depicts body-soul dualism. Nickelsburg has noted,
Much intertestamental Jewish theology anticipates a future resurrection either of the body or of the soul. The dead exist in an intermediate state. Yet some do not posit an intermediate state, for they speak of an immediate assumption to heaven.[5]
1 Enoch is a piece of second temple Jewish pseudopigraphica which requires a pre-Christian date since the text is utilized in some Qumranic literature. Chapter 22 depicts a place wherein “the spirits of the of the souls of the dead” dwell “until the day of their judgment.” This intermediate state also possess a separation which segregates in which “spirits of the righteous” benefit from a “bright fountain of water,” from “sinners” who suffer “great torment until the day of judgement.” This scenario is not unlike that mentioned by Jesus in Luke 16:19-31, a text which is largely considered to be a parable by AM adherents.[6]
4 Maccabees makes a dualistic distinction between the “body and soul”[7] and characterizes souls as “immortal.”[8] The book of Jubilees describes a time when men’s “bones shall rest in the earth, and their spirits shall have much joy.”[9] The text also describes an intermediate state wherein the faithful exist in “majesty and honor.”[10] The Wisdom of Solomon states,
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God where no torment shall touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction.[11]
Scholars have long identified the Essenes with the Qumran sect, which is itself likely a tradition derivative of Pharisaism. Josephus notes that the Essenes too hold the “immortality of souls.”[12] This characterization is affirmed by Qumranic literature itself. For example, the interpretation of Genesis 1-3 in 4QInstruction and the Two Spirits tractate both require body-soul dualism.[13] Flusser has argued that the basis for Qumranic body-soul dualism is not “the deeper dichotomy of matter and spirit, but rather the view that God elevates his elect from a debased state—from the reality of the ‘flesh.’[14] Flusser concludes that “There is undeniable community in the conclusions drawn by the [Qumran] Scrolls, and the early church, on the one hand, and the Greek and Gnostic thinkers, on the other with regard to human nature.”[15]
In light of the above, it is evident that the tradition in which Paul aligned himself affirmed body-soul dualism that was directly connected to the belief in the resurrection. Evidence that Paul affirmed this view is present in his Epistle to the Philippians. Paul wrote, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”[16] The dichotomy Paul has presented is between living “in the flesh” or departing “to be with Christ.” If AM were Paul’s belief, in what sense could one live apart from flesh? The clear implication is that death, or euphemistically departure (ἀναλύωb), will result in Paul’s immediate existence in the presence of Christ.
AM adherents explain this text in terms of a cessation of personal existence until the resurrection. However, this interpretation requires one to read a sentiment into the text that isn't there to begin with. The AM interpretation also requires an artificial break between “to depart and be with Christ,” so as to include an indefinite amount of time where Paul can “be” nowhere.
A similar affirmation of body-soul dualism is presupposed by Paul in his discourse on the law and sin in Romans 7:7-25. There Paul outlines how he was “killed” (ἀπέκτεινεν) when his sin was viewed in light of God’s law. This law, Paul says, although it brought “death” to him, was both “spiritual” and holy, and is the appropriate imperative for Christian living. However, even though Paul is a Christian and an apostle he admits that he does not obey the law. He wrote,
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.[17]
Paul then, presupposing a distinction between his body and his soul wrote, “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin dwelling in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”[18] Thereafter, Paul concluded,
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death.[19]
For Paul, his “inner being,” a being which Paul elsewhere says is “being renewed day by day,” is distinct from his “body,” namely that “outer self” which is “wasting away.”[20] Paul’s “inner being,” a being which Peter calls “the hidden person of the heart,”[21] and which the psalmist calls “the inward being,”[22] delights in God’s law, while his “body” sins and persists in rebellion. If AM were the apostle’s view, such a construct would be completely incoherent. The AM adherent possesses no “inner being” which is spiritually/morally distinct from the flesh.
While it is popular parlance for AM adherents to suppose that the Christian acceptance of body-soul dualism is actually the result of the incursion of pagan philosophy into the undefiled monism of biblical religion, the orthodox Christian affirmation of the soul is actually a deeply Hebraic conception which was arrived at by means of a resurrection eschatology.[23] This is evidenced by second temple Jewish literature, namely that of the Pharisees and Qumran/Essenes, and Pauline literature. The very edifice of Pauline harmartiology and soteriology is predicated upon a dualistic framework which was an artifact inherited from Israelite religion. Thus, in light of the above, AM is no more a derivative of biblical theology than is the pagan philosophy it blames for introducing dualism into Christianity.

[1] Acts 23:6.
[2] Acts 23:8.
[3] Antiquities of the Jews, 18.13.
[4] Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, 9.23.
[5] Nickelsburg, George W. E., Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism and Early Christianity, Expanded Ed.,  (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2006), 222.
[6] The story of the Rich man and Lazarus possesses qualities that make it unlikely to be a parable. Parables are stories that are intended to portray a truth by means of story. Hence, the underlying meaning of the story is the point, not the story itself. There exists no underlying meaning of Luke 16:19-31. Unlike parables the pericope features actual people who are named (e.g., Lazarus, Abraham). Further, the notion that Jesus would convey a fictitious story which utilizes a theologically erroneous paradigm (i.e., body-soul dualism and an intermediate state) is itself the product of a low Christology.
[7] E.g., 1:20.
[8] 14:6; 18:23.
[9] 23:31.
[10] 4:23.
[11] 3:1-2.
[12] Antiquities of the Jews, 18.15.
[13] See Evans, C., Zacharias, H. D. Eds., Early Christian Literature and Intertextuality, Vol. 2., (London: T & T Clark, 2009), 114-125.
[14] David Flusser, Judiasm of the Second Temple Period, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 286.
[15] Ibid., 291.
[16] Phil 1:21, 23b.
[17] Rom 7:15-17.
[18] Rom 7:18.
[19] Rom 7:21-24.
[20] 2 Cor 4:16. Cf. Eph 3:16.
[21] 1 Pet 3:4.
[22] Psalm 51:6.
[23] E.g., Wilson, Marvin R., Our Father Abraham: The Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 168, and Buzzard, Anthony, What Happens When We Die: A Biblical View of Resurrection, (McDonough: Restoration Fellowship, 2002), 13-16.