What is the Relationship Between the Body and Soul?

November 20, 2012 — 2 Comments

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[This post is part of a series covering eight little known theological truths about the Christian’s body]

I am in no way a scholar so the following post is my best efforts at collecting all I’ve studied about the relationship of the body to the soul. But what I have found has been extremely paradigm shifting for me. I hope it helps you too.

What is the relationship of the body to the soul?

Here are what seem to me to be the most popular options:

- There is no soul / the “I” is in the brain
- The body is a shell for the soul / the “I” is in the soul
- The body and soul are a unity / the “I” is in the entire being

In case, you’re new to theology options lists, the last one is generally the one the author adheres to. This is the case here. See, the first one clearly does not line up with scripture. The second is probably what I believed most of my life for several reasons which we will look at. But the third more and more is looking to be what the Biblical authors believed based on a study of the original language words for body, flesh, soul, and mind.

Argument for the body-shell option

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin… if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 7:23-24; 8:10-11)

This passage seems to contrast the body and the soul as not only separate parts but as enemies of each other. The “I” needs to be delivered from the body. Thus, the body cannot be the “I” right? But we know it is not just the body that is the problem. Sinful man is totally depraved, meaning his entire being is dead because of sin. It is not that his immaterial soul needs rescuing from a physical and dead body but rather the whole being needs rescuing (more on that tomorrow).

So “body” and “flesh” in many cases do not refer to simply the physical existence, but the sinful nature or entire being with an emphasis on the physical body.

Arguments for the body-soul unity

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8)

What does “set the mind on the flesh” mean? Does that mean to constantly be thinking about your physical body and its desires? But to set your mind on human approval, or status, or companionship is also death. And those are immaterial things that touch your soul, not so much your body. Again, it makes much more sense to read “flesh” in this instance as “your entire being under sin nature.”

It is better then not to think of your body and soul as parts of who you are, but rather perspectives or aspects of your entire being.

When the Bible singles out the body or spirit or heart or soul it is usually by way of emphasis. The whole person is in view while an aspect of him is in the foreground.

It is similar to the way we talk of the attributes of God.

See, God is one, a holistic unity, indivisible. Yet we talk about different aspects of his being like holiness, justice, mercy, and love. However these are not distinct parts of him, but rather perspectives on the whole of who God is.

Each attribute speaks of his entirety but from a certain point of view. When speaking of his love we have in view the fact that his justice, mercy, and holiness are all loving. Likewise, his love, mercy, holiness are all just. It is impossible to talk about one attribute without the others. Yet it is possible to distinguish them from each other.

It is the same with your material body and immaterial faculties.

You can distinguish different aspects of yourself such as your body, mind, heart, soul, spirit, conscience, strength, will, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, etc. To speak of one is to see the others through that lens.

Your body without your soul is no longer you, but your soul without your body is also not completely you. To be human is to be both body and soul. That is why there has to be a resurrection.

When Paul says you are members of Christ’s body. That includes both your body and soul. (1 Cor. 6:14,17). The Bible is filled with language inferring the unity of the body and soul as one (Ps. 32:1-4; Ps. 38:1-8; Pr. 3:5-8; Pr. 12:18; Pr. 13:14; Pr. 16:24; Pr. 14:30)

Your body is not a shell for your soul but rather the outward physical expression of your immaterial being. This is incredibly important to understand as you fight to kill lust in your heart for two reasons:

First, things external to you can influence your soul through your body; likewise, they can influence your body through your soul. But there is no such thing as something that only effects the one and not the other.

Second, it helps you understand where the battle against lust truly lies. And what aspects of yourself are truly your enemy in the fight. But we will talk about that more in tomorrow’s post.

Here is the key take away: the Bible has a high view of both the body and soul, not one more than the other or one against the other. Neither is the goal to free your new spirit from your old dead body. But we’ll talk more about that in the third point tomorrow.

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