Many Christians take Plato's dualistic worldview and subscribe to it as an accurate, truthful, and even "biblical" view of reality. They then take Christian/biblical terminology and map it on to the Platonic worldview. For example, for many Christians, the created order (earth) is Plato's material reality and Heaven is the non-material reality. Thus, while on earth humans have bodies (soma) made of flesh (sarx), but these bodies are inhabited by the non-material soul (psyche) and spirit(pneuma). After the death of the body, the non-material self (psyche/pneuma) go to the non material reality, heaven. Well, this works well enough if one does not look too closely at the biblical material. Yet, when one looks closely at the language of the Bible, it does not map neatly onto the Platonic worldview. The following is just one example.
First Corinthians chapter 15 contains Paul's most complete teaching on the resurrection. The chapter is 58 verses long and contains numerous interesting passages, all related in some way to the concept of resurrection. At one point in Paul's argument, he poses the question to himself as follows:
35 "But someone will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?'" (NRSV)So, Paul is wondering what sort of existence will there be after the resurrection. Well, to line up with Platonic thought, Paul would have to posit a material/physical existence on this side of death, followed by a non-material/spiritual existence after the resurrection. Enter 15:44-46, where Paul says:
44 "It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, 'The first man, Adam, became a living being'; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual." (NRSV)So, there you have it. Paul agrees with Plato, right? Before death it is a "physical body" and after death it is a "spiritual body." Here is how the NIV translates the same verses:
There again, Plato. Before death, "natural," after the resurrection, "spiritual." But, and here is the big but, Paul doesn't actually say what the NIV or NRSV translations say he says.44 "it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”[a]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.
Interestingly, the word translated as spiritual here is, as we would expect, spiritual (pneumatikos, for which you can see the resemblance to the Greek for spirit, pneuma). No problems there. But, the word that is translated as physical (NRSV) and natural (NIV), is not the Greek word that means physical or natural (physikos), but instead, the word used there is, for lack of a better word, "soulish" (psychikos). Here it is the soul (psyche) which characterizes existence on this side of death and the spirit (pneuma) which characterizes existence post-resurrection. Now, it looks like Paul might not line up so nicely with Plato after all. Plato firmly placed soul (psyche) and spirit (pneuma) in non-material reality, but here, Paul says that soul (psyche) is on this side of death, and that spirit (pneuma) is post-resurrection. This is not even to mention the fact that body (soma) which for Plato is on the material side of reality, exists in both of Paul's realities. There is a "soulish" body (soma) before death and a spiritual body (soma) after the resurrection.
I will have some further thoughts on this matter in a follow up post. But, for now, what do you think?