Friday, September 18, 2009

Biblical versus 'Greek' anthropology

I am really enjoying the book by Gundry mentioned in the last post. One important thing his book does is to really crush the argument that 'Hebrew' or OT anthropology only knew humanity as animated bodies rather than a body/soul duality. And so what I wrote earlier on this subject definately needs some modification. So here are some thoughts about the differences between OT/NT Duality and Platonic Dualism.

  • In biblical thought both the body and soul sin, in platonic thought the body is sinful, the soul pure.
  • In biblical thought the soul survives the body but is diminished by the loss, in platonic thought the soul is liberated by the loss.
  • In biblical thought salvation is either the preservation or the reunification of the body and soul, in platonic thought it is a purely spiritual affair.
  • In biblical thought 'you' are truly your body and soul, but for the platonist 'you,' the soul, have a body.

Of course ancient Greek thought was pretty diverse and so any generalisations are by nature somewhat blunt and inaccurate.


  1. hmmm... interesting again.

    On OT anthropology, wouldn't the four-fold parallelism in the Shema (heart, soul, mind, strength) reinforce the 'integrated' view you outline here?

    On that last bullet point: I'm interested in how C.S. Lewis might respond (particularly in light of his quote: "You don't have a soul, you are a Soul. You have a body.")

  2. Yes, CS Lewis is a classic example of someone who was very Platonic in his Christianity, and you can see this in a lot of his work. He came to Christ in the middle of a career as a classicist and I think you often find him making assumptions about the gospel that come from a more platonic source than a really scriptural one. But it's often quite subtle. I think CS Lewis was great in his day, but too many today build on his work uncritically, and that CS Lewis quote is a classic one for being bandied about by people who think it sounds good but haven't weiged its truth against biblical teaching. thanks Dale

  3. Interesting - Is there a sense in which that Lewis quote can still be understood to be referring to a biblical understanding of an integrated anthropology? Using 'soul' as a kind of umbrella term for 'me' and seeing that a 'soul' has a spirit and body, etc.?

    a "soul" characterised by duality between:
    spirit (mind, 'heart', 'strength')
    body (brain, blood-pumper, muscle, etc.)

    (I'm typing out loud, I suppose)

  4. well I have no doubt that Lewis did not intend it that way. but you can if you want i suppose!