I Am Not a Soul Man
It is common to refer to man as “composed of body and soul.” When we use such terms, however, it is easy to use them in a dualistic sense. Greek dualism saw man as composed of at least two separate and conflicting parts: the material or physical on the one hand, the form, idea, or spirit on the other. The spirit world was usually seen as the higher way, the way man could connect with divinity. Much of Pietism is based upon such a false pursuit of spirit as a higher way and spirituality as an escape from the material.
The Greeks saw man as composed of body and spirit. Much Christian teaching of the flesh and soul has borrowed heavily from such dualistic Greek thought. Genesis 2:7 says that when God breathed into the man He had formed from the ground, that man became a living soul. The soul in Scripture is not an ethereal spirit being that resides in man’s flesh; this is the Greek dualistic view. In Scripture, the soul of man is what God put into him. The soul is the breathing creature, the person God gave life from the dust of the ground. God made persons, individuals; he did not put ethereal spirits into bodies. These breathing creatures were whole; they were righteous and declared good. Man is not merely a naturalistic product of nature; he is more than flesh. He is not, however, a dualistic tension of body and soul. Flesh was meant to be man’s natural abode and will be eternally after the resurrection. Man is not in a metaphysical tension of body and soul but rather (after the Fall) a moral tension of good and evil.
When the Bible speaks of a soul living or dying, it refers to the person living or dying. To say a soul goes to heaven means the essence of that person is not the dust of the earth, which is buried. The soul of man is the real person, the individual, whom God made a living person in Genesis 2:7.
The soul, the essence of who we are, is not a spirit being in the Greek sense; it is the distinct person God made us. The eternity promised us is likewise not for a spirit being within us; it is for us. We go to heaven and there we shall be the people, the persons God intended for us to be, and we shall have “celestial bodies” (1 Cor. 15:40).
If we think of the soul as a spirit being, we open ourselves up to all sorts of ideas any Greek dualist would love: spiritism, poltergeists, lost souls trapped on earth, reincarnation, and the like. We may discount these things because of our theology, but too many churchmen hold to a metaphysic that allows for them. Genesis merely says that because God breathed life into man, man became a living soul, a breathing person.
Greek dualism says man has a metaphysical problem, that his body and spirit are at odds. When Christians borrow this false view of man’s problem, they seek a false exit strategy. They see spirituality as an escape from the material and death as the escape of the spirit of man from the prisonhood of flesh. Such thinking has long affected the church. The asceticism of the early church was the basis of the early monastic movement. At its worst, it was masochism masquerading as spirituality.
In Scripture, the problem of man is not metaphysical, but moral; man is a sinner against the God who created him. Our bodies are certainly impacted by the curse, but that is a moral fact. Matter is not intrinsically a lower form. As persons, we sinned in Adam, and all flesh was made subject to the curse. We are fallen in both body and soul, and both need renewal by the grace of God. Regeneration is the renewal of the soul, the person. The resurrection will be the renewal of the body. The resurrection will complete a total restoration, a fully restored body and a sinless soul in perfect harmony.
God saves souls. This does not mean He saves part of people or just a spirit being within us. It means God saves us; God saves persons.
I am a person given physical life by God and redeemed by His grace. I am saved to the hope of eternity with Jesus in my whole person. I do not want an ethereal salvation as a spirit being. I am not a soul man; I want the complete salvation of the whole me.