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The Nature of Man and the Old Testament

Editorial Note: For centuries many Pauline scholars have taken it for granted that Paul's anthropology was basically Hellenistic, reflecting the influence of the Greek culture in which he was reared and educated. Early in this century British and German New Testament scholars began to challenge this assumption. They presented extensive evidence to show that Paul's terminology of man was not so much Helleriistic, but Hebraic (Old Testamental). After all, did not Paul say he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews? Could we not expect that it was the Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) that molded his thinking more than anything else?

Many good Christians of a more conservative or fundamentalist bias are inclined to ignore the findings of recent scholarship or even to disparage it all under such epithets as "liberal," "modernist," "neo-orthodox," etc. But not all evangelical scholars are prepared to take such an obscurantist position. While they hold tenaciously to the time-honored eternal verities of the Christian faith, they are at the same time open to the best contributions of scholarship and are willing to rethink certain areas if the evidence demands it. Dr. George Eldon Ladd, Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, is such an evangelical scholar. His recent A Theology of the New Testament is conservative and evangelical, but is also abreast of recent scholarship. His very recent I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus is Christian apologetics at its best. In both these books Dr. Ladd makes some stimulating comments on the nature of man in the light of the Old Testament. We produce these comments here by permission.

From I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus 1

To understand the Old Testament hope, we must first of all understand the Old Testament concept of man. It stands in sharp contrast to the Greek view of man. One of the most influential Greek concepts of man stems from Platonic thought and has often had a strong influence on Christian theology. It is that man is a dualism of body and soul. The soul belongs to the real, permanent, noumenal (abstract thought) world; the body belongs to the visible, transitory, temporal, phenomenal world.2 The body is not thought to be ipso facto evil, as was the case in later Gnostic thought, but it is a hindrance to the cultivation of the mind and the soul. The wise man is he who learns how to discipline the body so that it is held in control and does not impair the cultivation of the soul. In this view, the soul is immortal, and "salvation" means the flight of the soul at death to escape the burden of the phenomenal world and find fulfillment in the world of eternal reality.

A verse in Paul, taken out of context, can be interpreted in this light. "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). This sounds like Platonic dualism; but in the context of Pauline thought, the eternal "things that are not seen" means the world of God which eventually will break into this world and transform it. 3 This includes the resurrection of the body. Paul never conceives of the salvation of the soul apart from the body. Salvation means the redemption of the body and of the whole created order as well (Rom. 8:21-23).

Paul's view is based upon the Old Testament view of man, in which man's "soul" (nephesh) is primarily his vitality, his life — never a separate "part" of man. "Spirit" is first of all God's spirit (ruach), his breath, his power (Isa. 31:3; 40:7) which created and sustains all living things (Ps. 33:6; 104:29-30). God's spirit creates the human spirit (Zech. 12:1), but neither man's soul nor spirit is viewed as an immortal part of man which survives death. Man's death occurs when his spirit — his breath — is withdrawn (Ps. 104:29; Ecc. 12:7), and his soul — his nephesh — may be said to die (Num. 23:10, literally, "let my soul die the death of the righteous"; Jud. 16:30, "let my soul die with the Philistines"). In other places, the soul (nephesh) is said to depart to Sheol (Ps. 16:10, "For thou dost not give up my soul to Sheol"; cf. Ps. 30:3; 94:17). In these last references, nephesh is practically synonymous with the personal pronoun; there is no thought of an immortal soul existing after death. In sum, the Old Testament view of man is that he is an animated body rather than an incarnated soul.4 "Life" in the Old Testament is bodily existence in this world in fellowship with the living God (Deut. 30:15-20). "Death" means the end of life but not the cessation of existence. The dead exist in Sheol as "shades" (Prov. 9:18; Isa. 14:9; 26:19). A "shade" is not man's soul or spirit; it is man himself, or rather a pale replica of a man. It is man stripped of his vitality and energy — a shadow of his earthly self. The evil thing about Sheol is that in death, man is cut oft from fellowship with God (Ps. 6:5; 88:10-12; 115: 17).

However, this is not the last word. The conviction grew that if God's people had truly enjoyed fellowship with God, even death could not disrupt that relationship. God is Lord both of the earth and of Sheol. "Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!" (Ps. 139:8).

Under this conviction, several of the Psalms express the conviction of blessedness after death instead of the gloom of the nether world. An important passage is Psalms 16:9-11:

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure.

For thou dost not give me [lit. my soul] up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit.

Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fulness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Some interpreters understand this to mean only that God will preserve his saint from dying. However, there is no hint of danger or sickness in the context. "He is cherishing the hope that in this life and beyond he may find in God his portion still, and so may be delivered from Sheol."5 "The real question in PS. XVI is that of communion with the Living God; the writer foresees no end to this; he does not understand how its persistence will be possible, but that does not trouble his mind, because it depends on God."6 The important thing to note is that survival after death is not a characteristic inherent in man; it rests altogether with God.

A second passage is Psalms 49:15:
    But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.
A recent commentator thinks that this passage means that the author expects to experience an assumption similar to that of Enoch and Elijah.7 However, it seems more likely that this should be understood as expressing a conviction similar to that of Psalms 16.

In death itself the difference between the man who serves God and the man who scorns Him is made apparent. The psalmist is sure that his God will not let him suffer the fate of the impious; through faith, he asserts that God will be with him. The hand of Sheol is impotent against the presence of Yahweh with those who are His own.8

The same thought is probably expressed in Psalms 73:24:
    Thou dost guide me with thy counsel, and afterward thou wilt receive me to glory.
There is some difficulty with the text, but Rowley's conclusion seems sound: the Psalmist "first declares that he enjoys God's fellowship here and now, and if God is to receive him, it must be to future fellowship . . . Both before death and after death he has a secure treasure in the fellowship of God."9

Such passages give us only glimpses of a hope of a blessed existence after death. It is important to note that the hope is based on confidence in God's power over death, not on a view of something immortal in man. The Psalmists do not reflect on what part of man survives death — his soul or spirit; nor is there any reflection on the nature of the after life. There is merely the confidence that even death cannot destroy the reality of fellowship with the living God. This is very different from the Greek view of immortality. "The psalmists.. . cannot conceive that this communion [with God] can ever be broken even by death."10

There also gradually emerged in the Old Testament the hope of bodily resurrection. That the Hebrews believed that death need not be the end of human existence is proved by the bodily translation of Enoch and Elijah. Furthermore, there are stories of resurrections wrought by Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs. 17:17-24; 2 Kgs. 4:31-37; 13:21). However, these are all exceptional cases and lead to no conclusions about resurrection in general.

In the prophets, we find several clear intimations of the hope of resurrection. The first is in Hosea 6:1-2:
    Come, let us return to the LORD;
    for he has torn, that he may heal us;
    he has stricken, and he will bind us up.
    After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
Some scholars see here a reference to individual resurrection, but the passage more likely refers to the restoration of the nation. God has punished Israel for her apostasy. Here is expressed a plea to return to the Lord to receive healing; and if Israel turns, in a very short time God will restore the nation to its favoured position as his people.

The same idea is found in Ezekiel 37, where Ezekiel has a vision of a valley of dry bones which came together and then were covered with flesh. This clearly refers to the resurrection of the nation (Ezek. 37:11-13), not to individual resurrections. However, the very fact that the vision sees the restoration of dead bones to life suggests that the idea of bodily resurrection was familiar. "There is no doubt that the symbolism that [Ezekiel] employs raised among the Jews the question of renewal of life for the departed."11

The first clear reference to resurrection is found in Isaiah 25-26. In Isaiah 25:8 we read, "He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces." This verse appears in an eschatological context of the establishment of God's Kingdom on the earth and the gathering of his people to enjoy the blessings of his rule. It pictures an entirely new situation in which death is no more. This is not yet a promise of resurrection, but only of the abolition of death.

However, Isaiah 26:19 expresses the confidence in resurrection:
    Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise.

    O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!

This does not appear to be a general resurrection, but only of God's people.12

A resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous is clearly affirmed in Daniel 12:2: "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." This may refer to a "general" resurrection,13 that is, a resurrection of all men. On the other hand, the text affirms the resurrection of many, not of all, and the resurrection may be limited to Israelites.14 The righteous are raised to "everlasting life". This is the first occurrence of this phrase in the Bible. The Hebrew has "to the life of the age", i.e., to a life that extends indefinitely into the future. By New Testament times, the equivalent Greek phrase meant "the life of the Age to Come" (see Mk. 10:30). In Daniel it clearly refers to an eschatological resurrection of the body. Rowley thinks that "what is in mind is physical life in this world, side by side with those who had not passed through death."15 This depends altogether on how one understands the word "physical". It cannot designate a body exactly like the physical body of this age, for this body is shut up to death, and the resurrection body transcends this limitation.

We have completed our survey of the idea of the after life and of the resurrection in the Old Testament. We have discovered that the Old Testament does not consider the soul of man to be an immortal part of him. On the other hand, death does not end existence; the dead exist in the shadowy realm of Sheol. Gradually the conviction emerges that even death cannot separate God's people from enjoyment of fellowship with God, and this leads finally to the belief in the eschatological destruction of death and the resurrection of the body. This was a logical outcome of the Old Testament view of man, for whom bodily existence is essential to the full meaning of life. The idea of man as an animated body, and the faith in a sovereign God whose power and promises could not be broken by death, led to the belief in the eschatological resurrection of the body.

From A Theology of the New Testament 16

Paul's view of man has been interpreted in three ways. Scholars of an older generation understood I Thessalonians 5:23, where Paul prays for the preservation of the spirit, soul, and body, to be a psychological statement and understood Paul in terms of trichotomy; spirit, soul, and body are three separable parts of man.17 Other scholars have interpreted Paul against the background of Greek dualism and have seen a dichotomy of soul and body.18 Recent scholarship has recognized that such terms as body, soul, and spirit are not different, separable faculties of man but different ways of viewing the whole man.

BACKGROUND. In order to appreciate Pauline psychology, we need to have in mind the chief elements in the Greek and Hebrew concepts of man. One of the most influential thinkers for the subsequent history of Greek philosophy was Plato. Plato held to a dualism of two worlds, the noumenal and the phenomenal, and to an anthropological dualism of body-soul. The body was not ipso facto evil, but it was a burden and hindrance to the soul. The wise man cultivated the soul so that it might rise above the body and at death be freed from the body and escape to the world above.19 In Hellenistic times, the body, belonging to the world of matter, was thought to be ipso facto evil by the gnostics. Stacey has pointed out that most of the philosophers of Greece followed Plato in his view of soul and body, and that it was so impressed upon the civilized world that "no man can discuss the relation of soul and body today without encountering some resurgence of the Platonic view."20

The Hebrew view of man is very different from the Greek view. There is no trace of dualism. The Hebrew word for body occurs only fourteen times in the Old Testament21 and never stands in contrast to the soul (nephesh). More often, the word for flesh (basar) is used to designate the body (23 times). This word carries primarily a physical meaning. One significant usage is "flesh" as a symbol of human frailty in relation to God. Basar appears as something that men and animals possess in their weakness, which God does not possess. "My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh" (Gen. 6:3). "The Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses are flesh, and not spirit" (Isa. 31:3). Basar refers to human beings in their frailty and transience, to man in his limitations, as distinct from the infinite God.22

Soul (nephesh) is not a higher part of man standing over against his body but designates the vitality or life principle in man. God breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living nephesh (Gen. 2:7). Body and the divine breath together make the vital, active nephesh. The word is then extended from the life principle to include the feelings, passions, will, and even the mentality of man.23 It then comes to be used as a synonym for man himself. Families were numbered as so many souls (Gen. 12:5; 46:27). Incorporeal life for the nephesh is never visualized. Death afflicted the nephesh (Num. 23:10) as well as the body.

A third term is spirit (ruach). The root meaning of the word is "air in motion," and it is used of every kind of wind. The word is often used of God. God's ruach is his breath — his power—working in the world (Isa. 40:7), creating and sustaining life (Ps. 33:6; 104:29-30). Man's ruach — his breath — comes from God's ruach (Isa. 42:5; Job 27:3). Thus man is conceived of as possessing ruach, inbreathed from God, as an element in his personality (Gen. 45:27; I Sam. 30:12; I Kings 10:5). God is the supreme spirit (Gen. 6:3; Isa. 31:3). Ruach in man is expanded to include the whole range of emotional and volitional life, thus overlapping with nephesh.24 The difference between nephesh and ruach in man is that nephesh designates man in relation to other men as man living the common life of men, while ruach is man in his relation to God.25 However, neither nephesh nor ruach is conceived of as a part of man capable of surviving the death of basar. They both designate man as a whole viewed from different perspectives.

1 Reprinted from George Eldon Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, pp.44-49. copyright 1975 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing company. Used by permission.
2 This view is spelled out in detail in the author's book, The Pattern of New Testament Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), chap. 1.
3 For this problem, see ibid., p.99.
4 See N. W. Porteus in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, K-O, p.243.
5 H. H. Rowley, The Faith of Israel (London: S.C.M., 1956), p.174.
6 R. Martin-Achard, From Death to Life (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1960), p.153.
7 M. J. Dahood, Psalms 7 (Garden City: Doubleday, 1966), p.301.
8 Martin-Achard, op. cit., p.157. See also H. H. Rowley, op. cit., p.171, "Whereas the righteous may have suffering here, . . . hereafter he will have bliss, for God will take him to himselt." See also G. von Rad, Old Testament Theology (New York: Harper, 1962), I, p.406.
9 H. H. Rowley, op. cit., p.173.
10 Manin-Achard, op. cit., p.180.
11 Ibid., p.102.
12 G. von Rad, op. cit., I, p.407.
13 Loc. cit.
14 J. A. Montgomery, The Book of Daniel (New York: Scribners, 1927), p.471.
15 H. H. Rowley, op. cit., p.168.
16 Reprinted from George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, pp.457-459. Copyright 1974 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Used by permission.
17 See F. Delitzsch, A System of Biblical Psychology (1867), pp.103-19.
18 G. H. C. MacGregor and A. C. Purdy, Jew and Greek: Tutors Unto Christ (1936), pp. 335f.
19 See G. E. Ladd, The Pattern of NT Truth (1968), pp.13-20; W. O. Stacey, The Pauline View of Man (1956), pp.72-74.
20 D. Stacey, The Pauline View of Man, p.74. Stacey gives an excellent brief history of the Greeks' view of man.
21 Ibid., p.94.
22 Ibid., p.93.
23 lllustrations in Ibid., p.87.
24 lllustrations in Ibid., pp.89-90.
25 Ibid., p.90.