Body, Soul, and Human Life 1

I’m writing a review of Joel Green’s book Body, Soul, and Human Life for JETS and I thought you might find it interesting. So, I’m going to post it here in a several pieces.  I’d be interested in hearing any comments/questions you have about the review or the book.

What do neuroscience and biblical hermeneutics have to do with one another? As Joel Green’s new book demonstrates, they both provide vital perspectives on what it means to be human. Indeed, Green argues that no adequate theological anthropology can be done without paying attention to both of these disciplines. To this end, Green focuses in this book on “neuro-hermeneutics”—that is, understanding the human person by identifying the surprising areas of agreement between neuroscience and biblical hermeneutics.

Throughout Green argues that traditional (i.e. dualist) anthropologies need substantial revision. The growing consensus that the Bible portrays the human person as a holistic, physical being and the growing scientific evidence that all aspects of human existence—including the psychological, social, and spiritual—are grounded in human physicality both require, according to Green, that we understand human persons as entirely physical beings. Rather than trying to ground human uniqueness in the possession of an immortal and immaterial soul, Green contends that human uniqueness lies exclusively in their covenantal relationship with God (imago Dei).

What do you think? Have you spent much time reflecting on the dualism/physicalism question? Green is correct that nearly all biblical scholars view the Bible as emphasizing the holistic nature of human life, and modern science certainly presses us to appreciate that every aspect of human existence is connected to and influenced by our physicality. Does this mean that we need to reject dualism as a viable way of understanding the human person?

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on September 28, 2009, in Anthropology, Hermeneutics, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Marc, I can’t say that I’ve put too much thought into this subject since I read through your book (I figured that was enough thought), but I do think that the whole dualism perspective is quite overdone (perhaps from an unfortunate misreading of Paul’s spirit/flesh antithesis?). However, while Scripture, in my opinion, does seem to emphasize the wholeness of the person there are also instances where there seems to be some sort of existence beyond the body. Samuel visits Saul in 1 Sam. 28, or Paul wishes to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23) which is something different then being in the flesh.

    I wonder, if the biblical picture of Sheol or the afterlife is more of a picture of waiting in some incomplete state for Christ to return and the body and soul to be brought back together again, for only united do they form true humanity. In short, I still think there may be a place for soul/body distinction, but each is not complete without the other. How about that? Those are my two pence (I’m living in England now) for what its worth.

  2. You’re in good company. The idea that the human person is a psychophysical being who can continue to exist after death in a disembodied state only in a truncated and less-than-ideal fashion is quite popular among contemporary ‘holistic’ dualists (e.g. John Cooper).

    And kudos for plugging my book! (I would like to assure anyone reading these comments that I did not in any way solicit a reference to my book.) I would have thought that the agony of actually having to read the whole book would have caused you to block it from your memory entirely.

  3. Ha! I only blocked some chapters from my memory. The first half I found very informative and thought provoking. This is an issue I hadn’t thought much about before but it has profound implications. For instance, the way we view the self (i.e., holistic vs. dualistic) I think would have great implications for the way we view the life to come (i.e., heaven vs. new earth). I also wonder how the concept of ‘new creation’ fits into our understanding of the self, but now I’m getting carried away. Cheers!

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