The nature of personhood – or personality as we shall phrase it – is not an entirely settled topic in theology, although the scriptures are quite clear about its definition.
Psychologists speak of a personality as a composition of psychological and physical traits. This conception is perfectly sound and comports well with Scripture when Moses said, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The person clearly consists of body and soul, but there is more in the Hebrew which Paul later acknowledges.
Paul added some additional detail when he spoke of the Word of God dividing asunder the soul and the spirit, something which most commentators and theologians dismiss as rhetorical flourish which distinguishes between two synonyms – something of an absurd flourish in our estimation.
The argument is that soul and spirit are interchangeable words for the same entity. Such people resort to other scriptures to prove that these words are used interchangeably and without loss of meaning. There may be some cases where spirit and soul could be interchanged, but we do not see how a loss of meaning is avoided.
In the first place, Paul is speaking about the precise surgical qualities of the Word of God – it is a holy scalpel. Paul is not playing word games with us. He understands that however close the nexus between soul and spirit, there is yet a distinction to recognize.
This distinction has become clearer with advances in understanding the brain and psychiatry. The soul or mind is the cerebral wiring between our brain cells. No brain has the same pattern or network of connections. This gives each person identity – a unique instantiation of a person – and all under the direction of God.
When the breath, or spirit leaves a body, its existence stops. A person can no more be a person without all 3 elements than a leopard could be a leopard without its spots. The implications are quite jarring to those who believe in the immortality of the soul. The soul cannot exist without the spirit or oxygen which animates biological and psychological life – and a person cannot exist without body, soul, and spirit. Thus death ends our existence.
The best way to think of human existence is as a program being loaded from hard disk into memory, using the metaphor of a computer. When the program is terminated, it is cleared form memory and ceases to operate. It is dead though it resides on a hard disk ready for resurrection at the invocation of a user. Such is our death.
The immortality of the soul is one of the pagan Constantine’s legacies to the Christian ekklesia. It is utterly absurd to think that we can exist without our natural components, whose model God established in the Garden with our first parents. And thus we have human ontology.
Copyright 2013 Tony Bonn