Friday, May 18, 2012

Where is the real you located? Mind, Body or Soul

The identity and make up of man has been the subject of endless thought and dialogue since the ancient times. While we are physical, material, embodied beings, more than the physical is observed in our existence, and specifically this ‘more’ seems to distinguish us from other creatures. Body, mind, soul - is man all of the above in unity, or does his essence lie in his distinguishing elements which set him apart? A consideration of the Biblical text is crucial to our understanding of man, and will be the focus of this essay. Alongside a central biblical theme, a review of the main philosophical and psychological arguments will be integrated. 

There are at least two views claiming a biblical position as to the nature of man (Reymond, 1998). These seem to also be evident in western thought. The two views will be presented briefly and the argument put forth that Monism is inadequate in light of the scriptures. The ‘Monism’ or ‘whole man’ view postulates that there is no separation between body and soul, that man is a whole breathing creature with spiritual and bodily functions existing in unity. There is no dichotomy (body and soul), (or trichotomy of body, soul and spirit), and significantly, the soul dies with the body (since it can not exist without one). It follows that it is only at the resurrection that a new unity takes place in a new creation. This view is echoed by a number of current scholars and philosophers, such as Skip Moen who argue that we have the English translation “soul” because of the influence of the Greek word ‘psyche’. Moen points out that the LXX translates ‘nephesh’ with the Greek ‘psyche’ (when it should be ‘person’), and argues that Hebrew thought does not separate man’s soul from the rest of what it means to be human. Thus, it is put forward that the division of man into body-mind-soul is a thoroughly Greek invention, stressing that in Hebrew, human beings are one homogenized entity, one person, one ‘nephesh’.

Moen quotes Jaques Ellul, a philosopher, law professor, sociologist and lay theologian: “In Jewish thought death is total. There is no immortal soul, no division of body and soul. Paul’s thinking is Jewish in this regard. The soul belongs to the “psychical” realm and is part of the flesh. The body is the whole being. In death, there is no separation of body and soul. The soul is as mortal as the body. But there is a resurrection. Out of the nothingness that human life becomes, God creates anew the being that was dead. This is a creation by grace; there is no immortal soul intrinsic to us. Greek philosophy, however, introduces among theologians the idea of the immortal soul.”

In a series of lectures, Dr Moen  presents the teaching of one of the Jewish theologian and philosopher, Abraham Heschel. Heschel taught that the Judaic / Hebraic concept stands in opposition to a western secular perspective largely derived from the influence of Plato’s pagan Greek Philosophy. Plato regarded the body and soul as separate entities. As a dualist, he also posited an "unreal" world of the senses and physical processes, and a "real" world of ideal forms. Plato believed that though the body dies and disintegrates, the soul continues to live forever. After the death of the body, the soul migrates to what Plato called the realm of the pure forms (Plato also integrated the idea of re-incarnation of souls into new bodies). It should be noted that Plato's philosophy was influential in the early Roman Catholic thought through the ideas of Plotinus ca. 205-270, Roman philosopher who developed Neo-Platonism, a philosophy based on Plato's ideas and the writing of St. Augustine During the 13th century.

While Monism rejects the influence of Greek pagan philosophy, it seems to agree with aspects of Aristotelian Greek teaching that body and soul are not two separate elements but are one thing. Aristotle perceived the soul, ‘psyche’ as the animating factor that catalyses life in the body and the source of human functions such as reason, will, desire, memory, sensation, perception, learning, motivation, emotion, socialisation, personality and imagination (Rollins, 2007). Like Monism, Aristotle does not allow for the possibility of the immortality of the soul. The soul is simply the form of the body, and is not capable of existing without the body. The soul dies along with the body.

Monism is accepted by some scholars as a view grounded in biblical Hebrew. In an essay titled ‘Cognitive Science and Christian Theology’ Charlene P.E. Burns extends this concept to the New Testament by outlining a conceptual necessity of an “embodied Christian soul”. She notes a general consensus in Hebrew thought (and Hebrew scriptures) that the person is a unity of body and soul signifying a ‘functional holism’ in which there is a ‘duality of ingredients’ – one does not exist without the other. Anderson (2007) concurs and uses the term ‘soul’ to denote the whole person. Perhaps a major implication of this teaching is that the concept of the soul’s immortality is viewed as a Platonic soul which stands in contrast to the teachings of Justin Martyr for instance: ‘a soul does not posses a claim to life within itself – only God sustains it’; (relying on 1 Tim 6:16, and Mat 10:28.)

Burns draws attention to the biblical account of creation whereby Adam is dust, into which God breathed life (Gen 2). Moreover She further notes that higher cognitive faculties such as thinking, decision making, loving etc are not only attributed to the soul but also to the ‘gut’ and ‘heart’. Gorsky is cited as describing the heart as the seat of the human conscience, and a hardening of heart separates us from God, while having a new heart signifies spiritual rebirth – (caution is probably warranted here given that the biblical text uses figurative and symbolic language). Burns states that an analysis of the Hebrew words for ‘soul’, ‘spirit’, ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ does not yield distinctive, inseparable entities.

Thus, an overview analysis of associated use of the words ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ is warranted here.
This is a brief overview analysis of the associated use of the words ‘Roo' ach’ and ‘nephesh’ in the Hebrew Bible. This was carried out using Strong’s Hebrew concordance in order to illuminate the Hebrew concepts in relation to what they contribute to human existence; moreover whether they are separate or distinct concepts from the physical body. ‘Spirit’ is usually the default translation for the Hebrew word ‘Roo’-akh’ – which can also mean ‘breath’, ‘wind’, and ‘mind’ (as in Gen 26:35). – (Jesus’ likening a person born of the spirit to the wind comes to mind here). Strong's concordance has a notation that the use of ‘spirit’ is applied only to a rational being*, however you will find that there are few exceptions to this where the word is rendered 'breath', for instance Gen 7:15. The concept rendered 'spirit' can also be used to describe an evil spirit – usually action-oriented and wilful (e.g. 1 Kings 22:22). A ‘spirit’ is perceived as something proceeding from God; for example, the spirit of wisdom, prophecy, jealousy (e.g. Judges 6:34 – on Gideon). The word is also used to describe spiritual states, such as grief, contrition, brokenness, and vexation.

The word ‘soul’ is usually the default translation of the Hebrew ‘nephesh’ – the undisputed use encompassing ‘soul’, ‘living being’ (a living body by implication) /’creature’ (including animals), ‘life’, ‘person’, (and less commonly rendered as ‘appetite’, ‘desire’, ‘emotion’, and ‘passion’) (Strong’s concordance). Note that ‘nephesh’ can be used to denote a whole creature. A visible distinction is also observed here in the application of ‘nephesh’ to living creatures in general not just man.

It should however be noted that ‘nephesh’ and ‘roo-akh’ are closely related in Hebrew, as in other Semitic languages such as Arabic – both for instance denote the concepts of wind and breath.
Note however, that in Genesis 2, into man's nostrils alone does God breathe the breath of life 'neshama' (Gen 2:7)**. The term is also used in Job 33:4 "The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath 'neshama' of the Almighty hath given me life" In Job 32:8, Elihu points out "But there is a spirit 'neshama' in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty gives them understanding. Again, proverbs 20:27 reads "The spirit 'neshama' of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly."

The question of what happens to the non-material component of soul/spirit after death is essential as the mortal body ceases to exist at that point. Monism and dualism both acknowledge that the body is resurrected or recreated (in a restored sense), to a renewed form at the resurrection. While monism does not deny the uniqueness of the spirit given to man, essentially what is denied is the existence of the soul after death without the body. Monism (at its extreme) states that soul death is necessitated with body death.

This view however does not seem to fit with the biblical Hebrew concept of ‘Sheol’. As Burns herself points out, the Old Testament Sheol is a resting place after death – one’s moral standing does not seem to be a factor here, (for instance, as signified by the prophet Samuel indicating to king Saul that he would be joining him in the resting place and David speaking of being with his dead child after death). This resting place is for departed souls until such time God brings a return to transformed bodily existence. The dialogue between Jesus and Martha on the resurrection at the last day seems to support this. Responses to these problematic issues by advocates of this form of Monism are largely unconvincing.

In line with this, Reymond (1998) rejects Monism's ‘whole man’ approach in favor of either a dichotomy or trichotomy model of man. In his Systematic Theology, he offers a convincing biblical picture of the case for defining body and soul as separate entities. While he acknowledges the need to reject the notion that the soul is the only valuable part of the human and that the body is equated with dragging the soul down to sin and corruption, he determines that there is a strong case for regarding soul and body as different entities.

It is important to note here the distinction between the dichotomy and trichotomy models, and the biblical grounds cited for each position. Those advocating a trichotomy model of man in body, soul and spirit rely on the verses of 1 Thessalonians 5:23 in Paul’s prayer ‘I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’; the claim is that this demonstrates that there is a tri-model; and Hebrews 4:12 as it refers to the word of God dividing asunder of soul and spirit’ is also taken to indicate a distinction between soul and spirit (note that both are in Greek NT). Reymond rightly points out the difficulties with forming a triune doctrine based on these scriptures – mostly for the reason that in doing so we regard them out of context extracting a secondary message from the text which was apparently not intended by the author. Burns agrees with this and warns that the Apostle Paul’s use of the terms taken to mean a trichotomy of ‘body’/’soul’ and the ‘spirit’ is problematic– and caution is sounded here as what we have of the Apostle’s thought on the subject is far from systematic (Burns 2007). Reference is also made by trichotomists to Jesus’ teaching in Luke 10:27 to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' (parallels in Mark 12:30, and Matthew 22:37). Again, Reymond draws attention to the primary purpose of the passage the passages as simply admonishing us to love God with our entire being. Variations in text of these ‘components’ between the gospels are also relevantly noted here.

Advocates of the dichotomy body and soul/spirit cite Ecclesiastes 12:7 ‘Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.’; and Mathew 10:28 ‘And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.’; and 2 Co 5:1-10 (referring to spirit and body) and Ph 1:21-24 (contrasting being present in the body with being present with Christ) – taken as evidence that we continue to live following the death of the body. Reymond notes that because of this evidence all the Reformation creeds including the Westminster Confession affirm the dichotomy of body and soul/spirit.

Burns adds that in the New Testament the soul is referred to in the context of salvation. The intermediate state of the soul after death of the body is believed to be with Christ for believers – seemingly out of body and awaiting the resurrection. She also notes that what seems to matter most in the New Testament was the person’s relationship to God and others – and the final outcome of the whole resurrected person. Like Jesus, the final outcome will be embodied. This is without a doubt evident in the teaching of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians where he speaks of an incorruptible, immortal body (1 Co 15). 

The contribution of Psychology is considered here, mainly in light of the contribution of neuroscience to the understanding of the brain/mind functioning synonymous with body/soul language. While the modern, secular study of psychology is largely unconcerned with the spiritual, the foundational stage of the field emphasised the existence of the soul. William James for instance who was one of the founders of Psychology believed in the existence of the soul and advocated the view that one needs to take into account the spiritual aspect inherent in man.  Indeed the word 'Psychology' is derived from 'Psyche' (Greek) meaning 'spirit' / 'soul' / 'mind'. Psychology was born in 1530 by none other than a biblical scholar Phillip Melanchthon in a commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Peri Psyches’ (Rollins, 2007). Freud and Jung later expanded the term to include the study of the unconscious. As in philosophy, there was a general consensus that the study of the soul is illusive; Jung describes it the difficulty as “quite impossible to define the extension and the ultimate character of psychic existence” (in Rollins, 2007 p.29).

With the pressure to establish the field of psychology as a scientific one, and thus seemingly a more credible and worthwhile field of study, began a push towards a less spiritual approach in favour of an empirical focus. The empirical orientation sought to shift the focus of psychology from realities that defy precise scientific measurement. Thomas Hobbs in the 1600s put forth a preference of conceptualising psychological phenomena as mere derivatives of the nervous system, including the brain, along with a call to eliminate references to the soul. This reductionist view translated ‘soul’ language to ‘mental apparatus’ associated with somatic and physical factors. Out of this trend, came an extreme form of naturalism advocating the ‘we’re just a pack of neurons’ idea. So, to naturalists, a human being is a physical organism whose mental and spiritual life will eventually be explained by science. 

Along this line of thought, traditional neuropsychology in particular poses that our functioning is a product of the random firing of neurons in the brain. Here the role of our genetic makeup is emphasised, along with biological predispositions for behaviour patterns, personality traits and psychological problems. Moreover, it’s a well known fact that physical factors such as sleep, adequate sunlight and diet affect our psychological state. Did not Elijah receive sleep and nourishment as first treatments for his desperate state of depression?

But do these well established facts necessarily mean that biology determines soul state? Perhaps at the heart of the matter lies the exploration of human consciousness – it is the core issue central to the understanding of human existence since it sets humanity apart from other creatures. The social and behavioural sciences have rightly observed that this awareness of functions and abilities is not present in animals for example. It seems that Christian theology and Psychology agree on this point. Reymond, a systematic theologian notes in his Systematic Theology that ‘into man’s nostrils alone does God breathe the breath of life ‘ne-sa-mah’ (Gen 2:7, also Job 33:4, Job 32:8 and Pro 30:27). This is also consistent with the use of the word ‘spirit’ ‘Roo-akh’ as applied only to a rational being (Strong’s concordance).

In a recent conference of the Australian ‘Christianity and Psychology’ Interest group, Dr Robi Sonderegger, a Christian psychologist, presented on ‘The best of science and scripture informing therapeutic application’ – in his keynote address he reflected on challenges posed by recent findings in neuropsychology to the traditional reductionist view defined above. Recent findings in neuro-psychology reveal that brain functioning is not as straight forward as first thought, indeed that brain structures change in response to our conscious thought modification ( akin to the biblical concept of ‘renewing of the mind’), and in response to our experiences and behaviour. This dynamic relationship between brain structure and experience suggest that the brain is not all there is to the mind. Moreover that the gene is not the end of the story; while one’s genetic makeup predisposes one to certain psychological illnesses, the mind has the capacity to influence the outcome of whether the illness will manifest or not – this, take notice evolutionary psychologists, Dr Sonderegger suggests this is more like ‘evolution in reverse’ – mind affecting brain.

Studies in neuropsychology show that the biochemistry of the brain changes in response to cognitive therapy and behaviour modification. This has been observed with addictions, depression, and anxiety among other psychological disorders. One example of this is demonstrated in the study by the Neuroscientist and Psychiatrist, Professor Jeffrey Schwartz. While brain scans actually show that something is physiologically different in the brain of someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), this study demonstrated that the relationship between brain physiology and the mind/behaviour is not a one way relationship. Dr Schwartz taught a sample of OCD sufferers to consciously recognise obsessive thoughts as a symptom of faulty brain wiring, then to wilfully refocus on more positive thought patterns and inturn not obey the obsessions with behavioural compulsions (Schwartz, 2002). Done frequently enough over a period of months, the OCD patients were able to actually physically dampen down their overly active brain structures as measured by brain scans. This effect created a new default in the OCD brain by a new frequent following of a healthier thought and behaviour.

With the rise of postmodernism, there has been a steady resurgence of ‘soul’ language during the eighties and nineties. Amongst psychologists with a Biblical world view, spirituality and psychology are not competing but rather complementary, moreover, the biblical text is held as illuminating the study and guiding its therapeutic goals.

Concluding comments

Our existence as we know it and experience it is both bodily/material and spiritual /immaterial. In light of observational and experiential evidence, body and soul co-exist and are inter-dependant on one another in this life. And most importantly, the spiritual and the physical are both ordered by God and God given – the spiritual is of God and the physical body is the temple of God. As we struggle to understand the clay, we do well to humbly remember that the clay can not understand how it is made – at some point we reach the limits of our understanding. ‘Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known’ (1 Co 13:12). Biblical witness tells of the risen Lord and of a future renewed bodily existence of the saints. ‘So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ (2 Co 4:18).

* The exception is found in Ecclesiastes 3:21 Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?’ – given the varying views on how to appraise this verse, caution is warranted in taking it as a doctrinal statement.

Anderson, R. S. (2007). On Being Human: The Spiritual Saga of a Creaturely Soul. In Psychological Insight into the Bible: Texts and Readings. Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans.

Burns C. P. (2005). Cognitive Science and Christian Theology. In Soul, Psyche, Brain. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cousineau, P. (2007). Soul and Psyche: The Bible in Psychological Perspective. In Psychological Insight into the Bible: Texts and Readings. Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans.

Moen S. (Audio Lecture material). Commentary of Abraham Heschel's "Who Is Man?"

Reymond, Robert L. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998)

Rollins W. G. (2007). Soul and Psyche: The Bible in Psychological Perspective. In Psychological Insight into the Bible: Texts and Readings. Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans.

Schwartz J.M., M.D., & Begley, S. (2002). The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Christianity and Psychology Conference material. Australian Psychological Society (APS) – (2012).

Strong’s Hebrew Concordance

No comments:

Post a Comment