In Part I of this series I asked the question: can humans be separated into different parts, most commonly, Body, Soul, and Spirit. In Part II I investigated how the Old Testament viewed the human. I came to the conclusion that in the Old Testament, the human is seen as an essential unity. The human does not have a soul as a separate part of the person, the part that departs after the body dies. No, in the Old Testament in general, the human is a nefesh (not "soul" but "living being") that is animated by the spirit or breath of God. When the spirit (ruach) departs, the human dies.
In this, Part III of the series, I would like to discuss the influence of the Greek world view, specifically the Greek philosophical world view.
From 333-323 B.C.E. Alexander the Great swept through most of the known world with his conquering armies and subdued Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt, the Ancient Near East, Persia, and even over into Afghanistan and India. With his armies, he also brought Greek language, culture, philosophy, and religion. Alexander's goal was to unify the world under the Greek umbrella. While he died on his return to Greece, he was nevertheless successful in his goal. For the next 300 years and beyond, the Mediterranean basin and the Ancient Near East were thoroughly Hellenized (encultured in the Greek thought systems).
Besides making Greek the lingua franca, Greek philosophy also entered into the lands conquered by Alexander. One concept in particular became popular, and that was the Greek view of the world in general, and the Greek view of the human in particular.
Plato likens humans on this earth to the prisoners in the cave. Through this physical world we can only see shadows. Only as the soul (ψυχή) turns away from this physical reality to seek the true higher light, can the soul ultimately be freed from this world and find its true home. Moreover, like the prisoners in the cave, humans do not like to be told that what they see and experience are not reality. Hence, this present physical reality is a barrier to seeing the truth.
Thus, the Greeks had a worldview of the duality of reality. This world, the created order, was at best morally neutral, and at worst, evil. The physical reality was a prison for our souls, preventing the soul, the core and true form of the person, from achieving true reality. Our bodies and their appetites were roadblocks to achieving enlightenment. The spiritual reality was the only true reality. Thus there is a duality, physical vs. spiritual, body vs. soul.
It is into this worldview that Christianity was born. It arose out of the Jewish view of the human discussed in Part II, but was surrounded by the Greek world view. Therefore the question arises: did the early Christians accept the Jewish view, the Greek view, or something else entirely. One thing is certain, the Christian scriptures were written in Greek, and therefore adopted Greek terminology such as body (σῶμα), soul (ψυχή), spirit (πνεῦμα).
Yet, did they accept the Greek world view? That will have to be left for part IV of this series. For now, which view is most held today in your religious (or non-religious) circles?