Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Leggo My Eggo

While we're just having fun and sticking to the completely nonsensical take a look at this:

"All things are better in Koine, it's what the scriptures really say"

For those of you who don't know, Koine (Κοινὴ) is the Greek dialect that was spoken as the common language of the western world for approximately 600-700 years (from Alexander to Constantine). Within Christian circles it is often simply referred to as "Biblical Greek" as it is in this dialect that the New Testament was written. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Koine Greek translation of the Old Testament.

I suppose the whole "Leggo my eggo" section (I almost died laughing) might require a bit of an explanation: In Koine, lego is the verb meaning "I say" or "I speak." Legomai (pronounced "leggo my") is the middle/passive indicative "voice" for this verb.

As for "eggo," what they are really saying is ego which is the first person singular pronoun, "I." Thus the Koine phrase legomai ego (or "leggo my eggo") means something like, "I say to myself." For all of you nerds (like me) who think that this is totally hilarious, you can even buy legomai ego T-Shirts.

They also refer to Daniel Wallace and Bill Mounce who are authors of the most common Koine Greek grammars out there. I'm personally a Mounce guy myself.

Anyway, next week I'll be back and ready to think.

PS - for those of you who want to continue mulling over the "soul issue," check out Jared's blog. He's included quotes from Murphy's book.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Peter vs. Paul: Biblical Ultimate Fighting Championship

So, things have been pretty heavy and in-depth for the last few weeks. Let's take a break.

You know how giant nerds always get caught up in their weird little hypothetical battles:
"Captain Kirk could totally kick Captain Picard's butt..."
"Who do you think would win in a battle between Gandalf and Yoda?"
... assuming anybody would care.

So, acknowledging that this is both nerdy and completely irrelevant to anything... well, ever:
Who would win in our first round of BIBLICAL ULTIMATE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP: Peter vs. Paul?

We know that they've had their differences (Gal 2:11 ff). This one is a grudge match!
In one corner we have Peter: fisherman, chief disciple, head of the church.
In the other corner we have Paul: former Pharisee, tent-maker, consumate missionary.

Place your bets!

Who will win? and why?

At the very least I hope you laughed... MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The relevance of Soullessness...finally!

Thank-you all for bearing with me and working through this with me. For being so good I'll have a special treat for you in next week's post.

Anyway, the time has come for me to attempt to articulate why I think this whole debate around the soul has any sort of relevance. After all, "why does this even matter?" is the question I've been asked the most since I've started this discussion. While the exploration and application of soullessness can and has taken up whole books I will simply address three areas of application: 1) the theological; 2) the personal; and 3) the inter-personal.

1. the theological:
I am working under the basic assumption that we all want to believe the right things. I am assuming that each one of us wants to do our best to believe the things about the Bible that God intended us to get out of it. I trust that this is a safe assumption.

Thus, I think it is important to wrestle through stuff like this. If there is good solid scholarship that indicates that we may be basing our some of our theology on pagan philosophy (ie. Greek dualism/gnosticism) then I think that's a big deal. If we think the Bible says something but that's not what God wanted us to get out of the scriptures then I think that's reason enough to look into this. More could be said about this but I'll leave it at that.

2. the personal:
If it is true that we are one integrous being, think about how this shapes your view about who you are. Ask yourself the ultimate existential question from these two differing angles (seriously, if you have time to read this blog then you have time to stop and think for a minute or two):

Who am I? (dualism - I have a body and a soul and they are separate)
Who am I? (Biblical monism - God created mankind with physical and spiritual aspects)
How are your answers different?

Think about how this affects the way in which we view ourselves as human beings. Think about how this affects our "self-esteem." I am not a "soul" stuck in a body. If we buy into this idea (which is basically the heresy of gnosticism) we can allow ourselves to be indifferent/apathetic/unhappy/angry with the way God created us. I can hate/abuse/neglect my body under the premise of "that's not who I REALLY AM." However, if God created us to forever be united to our physical bodies this changes everything. Once again, a lot more could be said (this is a blog not an essay... I always struggle with that) but I will leave it at that.

3. the inter-personal:
I was recently reading an article from a guy who works at World Vision who (at least partly) blamed the dualism that is so prevalent in Western Christianity for the lack of humanitarian work done by Western Churches in the Third World. We argued that just as we have separated the body and the soul we have separated development and evangelism. He argues that true, Biblical, Christian Witness needs to be holistic just as we as human beings are holistic.

Historically, the Church has "fed the soul" but left it to governments and secular agencies to feed the body. As a person working in the Third World he said that he has seen the damage that this has done. Many Christians are content to walk through towns and preach to the people and then walk on to the next town while the people they just preached to die. How is that Biblical (read the book of James; ie 2:15,16)? Again, I could go on and on... but I won't.

All of this is simply to say that this discussion is relevant. I may not have answers to all of the complicated questions that may arise (like Gil's question from last week's comments... that is one of the only questions that I find problematic) but it does (or at the very least can) have bearing on everyday life.

So, what other aspects of life does this discussion touch on?
Have any of your views shifted?
Vent/rant/just let it all out!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Soulless? (Part II)

As we continue this discussion I want to address the last two comments from last week's post. How do the Biblical writer's use NEPHESH? and is there a difference between the OT and NT concepts of "soul?"

My argument centres around the Septuagint (LXX). For those of you who may not know, the LXX is the Koine Greek translation of the OT. It is well known as a generally poor translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, but it has value to us in several ways:

First of all, because Greek was the language of the day, the LXX was the "Bible" used by Jesus, the disciples, and the early church. If you've ever run into a passage in the NT where it is quoting the OT but the wording isn't quite right when compared to the actual OT passage, that's because they were quoting the LXX, not the original Hebrew.

Secondly, the LXX is very helpful in bridging the cultural gap that I referred to last week. In the NT, especially the Gospels, we have Greek language but Hebrew culture. How do we know which is which? The fact is that a lot of our NT lingo is actually OT lingo, we just don't know it. When we look at the LXX we see words like "church (ecclesia)" and "baptism (baptizo)," which we normally think of as NT concepts. So when Jesus says "church" he wasn't coining a new phrase. He was using the LXX term for OT worship gathering. When the NT writers say "baptism" they are using the OT LXX term for ritual purification (ie. Naaman,2Kg5:10).

The LXX is our linguistic bridge between the OT and the NT.

The reason that this is pertinent to our "soul" discussion is because of the relationship between NEPHESH (Hebrew "soul") and PSYCHE (Greek "soul"). The LXX translates the Hebrew word NEPHESH as PSYCHE. So when a NT writer uses the term PSYCHE he is not identifying "soul" with Greek dualism but with the OT monistic concept of NEPHESH. This is highlighted by Lev. 21:11 (ESV) -"[A Priest] shall not go in to any dead bodies nor make himself unclean..." What is interesting about this verse is that the word "bodies" is actually the word NEPHESH.

But not only is this a "dead NEPHESH" but in the LXX it is a "dead PSYCHE!"

A dead "soul?" That doesn't work from a dualistic perspective, does it?

This link between NEPHESH and PSYCHE is solidified by NT Wright:
“… the word soul is rare in this [dualistic] sense in the early Christian writings. The word PSYCHE was very common in the ancient world and carried a variety of meanings … the New Testament doesn’t use it to describe, so to speak, the bit of you that will ultimately be saved. The word PSYCHE seems here to refer, like the Hebrew NEPHESH, not to a disembodied inner part of the human being but to what we might call the person or even the personality” ("Surprised by Hope" 152).

The fact is that (I would argue) there is no Biblical precedent for dualism. When we see soul (PSYCHE) in the NT it is referring to the OT concept of a holistic being: the spiritual and physical as one integrous being. Yes, we see Paul talking about the battle between the physical and the spiritual aspects of our being but that is part of us as humans living the the tension of how God created us. Remember, Paul was a Pharisee. Odds are he was referring to PSYCHE as NEPHESH and not Plato's kind of PSYCHE.

Sorry for the long scholastic rant.
What do you think?
Are there any other aspects of this that we should be taking a look at?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


While this isn't the first time this has been debated, there has been a reemergence of questioning within theological circles surrounding the existence of the human soul.

The first time I heard about this I was pretty confused. Christians questioning the existence of our immortal souls? Is this some sort of heresy? Shouldn't the existence of our souls be a given with Christians?

However, as I've read and understood a bit more about the concepts being debated I've become a lot more sympathetic. There's some interesting stuff here. Today I'll lay out the argument. Next week I'll lay out why it matters... because it does.

The reemergence of soul questioning has been led by Dr. Nancey Murphy (widow of renowned Baptist theologian, James McClendon. Both McClendon and Murphy were profs at Fuller Theological Seminary. She still is). You can read all about it in Murphey's 2006 book, "Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? (Current Issues in Theology)". I don't know her complete stance but I've read snippets of this book, a few interviews with her, and an article or two by other authors who support her views.

These people who say that we don't have a "soul" are actually trying to correct (what they perceive to be) a corruption that exists within Biblical Theology.

The gist of it is this: modern Christians have unintentionally bought into Greek dualism. The ancient Greek philosophers (especially Plato) advocated the view that the physical and the spiritual are separate. Once the physical life ends our separate, spiritual essence, the PSYCHE (Greek word for "soul") carries on into the shadowy afterlife. A version of this mode of thought was quite common during the time of the early church: the heresy of gnosticism.

Anyway, much, much later the thinkers of the Enlightenment, like Descartes, picked up on these Greek ideas and they became inextricable interwoven into the worldview of Modernism. Thus, the vast majority of the Western world has this vague notion that we are spiritual beings but don't really know what that means. Christians, in their attempts to reach this Modern worldview have latched onto this concept and said that, yes, we do have a spiritual aspect to who we are: we all have "souls." And when we die we get to go to heaven (whatever that is)!

Sounds a bit like Greek dualism, doesn't it?

According to Murphy and her camp, this is not what the Bible teaches. The problem is that when we read the New Testament and we see the Greek word, PSYCHE, translated as "soul" we automatically think about the Greek perspective on PSYCHE: dualism. However, the tricky thing about reading (especially the Gospels) the NT is that, while it is written in Greek, most of the worldview that we're dealing with is actually Hebrew.

Greek language. Hebrew culture.

The Hebrew word for "soul" is NEPHESH. The basic meaning of NEPHESH is "breath." In the Bible both animals (Gen 1:30) and humans (2:7) have NEPHESH. In fact, according to Mounces Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the Hebrew understanding of NEPHESH "... encompasses the entire person, body and soul. It is not that a person has a soul; rather, a human being is a soul... NEPHESH is so closely identified with the whole person that is can even mean a corpse..."

This is a pretty different concept of "soul" than most of us are used to.

So, the argument is that humans are one integrous being. There is no such thing as a disembodied "soul" that goes somewhere when we die. The physical and the spiritual aspects of God's creation cannot be separated.

I'm still working through this one, so let's do it together:
What do you think?
Is this pretty out there or is there something to it?
What scriptures come to mind?
What issues are tied together with this?