Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Did Paul Just Go All Plato on Me?

In a recent series on this blog (Part I, Part II, Part III), I discussed the fact that Paul's teaching on the resurrection in I Corinthians 15 (See also I Thess. 4 and Rom. 8) does not conform to a platonic worldview with its corresponding dualism of reality (material vs. non-material), and its human dualism (body/flesh vs. soul/spirit).

When, however, one turns to other passages in Paul, it may seem like he does embrace this sort of platonic dualism.  For example, here is what Paul writes in II Corinthians 3:18:
"18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit." (NRSV). 
Here, Paul may be opening the door to a human dualism.  In I Cor. 15, transformation is instantaneous at the resurrection.  Here the transformation is gradual and is taking place now.  Is this a "spiritual" or non-material transformation?  Shortly after this verse, II Cor. 4:16 reads:
"16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day." (NRSV).  
This verse seems to be even more clearly embracing a platonic dualism, expressed here by the terms "outer nature" and "inner nature." Paul goes on to write in II Cor. 4:18:
 "18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal." (NRSV).
And here we might have an embrace of  platonic dualism of the material vs. non-material.  As I continue to read E. P. Sanders' latest work on Paul, I found his comments on these verses informative.  Here is what he has to say about II Cor. 4:18:
"This sentence constitutes what I call 'Paul's most platonic moment': Platonic theory held that the eternal 'forms' are real, while their 'shadows' or 'imitations,' which are perceived by the human senses, are not real.  What can destroyed is not real, what is real cannot be destroyed. Again, this suggests body/soul dualism." (emphasis original)(E. P. Sanders, Paul: The Apostle's Life, Letters, and Thought, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015), 411). 
Add to these verses in II Corinthians Paul's words from Phillipians 1:21-23 which read:
"21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better;" (NRSV). 
Here, what is it that departs to be with Christ?  Is it Paul's immortal (platonic) soul?  And what is it departing? The body?  It appears, if you read these verses that between the writing of I Corinthians, which clearly battled against a platonic worldview, and the writing of II Corinthians and Philippians, that Paul has changed his mind and embraced a platonic worldview.  I (and Sanders) will have more to say on this in future posts, but for now, what do you think?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Resurrection and Plato Part III

In Part I and Part II of this series, I have been discussing Paul's worldview as expressed in I Corinthians 15 in relation to the very common "Platonic" worldview.  In a nutshell, I argued that Paul does not hold to a Platonic dualistic worldview which splits reality in two: material (earth) and non-material (world of forms) reality, and the corresponding dualistic view of the human with a material body/flesh and a non-material soul/spirit.

At the end of the last post, I posed the following question: "if Paul was not talking in I Corinthians 15 about a move from material (physical) to non-material (spiritual) existence, then what distinction is he making?"

The specific verses that I have been dealing with are I Corinthians 15:44-46, which in the NRSV read as follows:
44 It is sown a physical [psychikon] body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical [psychikon] body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being[psychen]”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical[psychikon], and then the spiritual.
As I pointed out, the NRSV, and virtually all modern English translations are misleading here as they translate the Greek word psychikos as "physical" (NRSV, CEB) or "natural" (NIV, KJV, NKJV, NASB, HCSB, ESV).  Both of these words, physical and natural, play into a Platonic worldview bias and render what Paul says as essentially mirroring the dualistic reality of Plato.  This makes it almost impossible to see the distinction that Paul is making here, and it is not a distinction between material and non-material reality, but rather the distinction is between corruptibility and incorruptibility, between mortality and immortality.

This distinction between mortality and immortality can be clearly seen if one doesn't let vv. 44-46 and their misleading translations drive the issue.  Rather, vv. 42-26 list four contrasts between life before and after the resurrection.  The controlling metaphor here is that of sowing a seed (i.e., before resurrection) and what grows from the seed (i.e., after the resurrection).  This metaphor was introduced in v. 37.  So, what is sown in death is transformed through the resurrection.  But once again, this is not a move from material to non-material.  Look at the four examples:
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a "soulish" body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a "soulish" body, there is also a spiritual body. 
So, what are the four pairs?  They are:

  1. perishable vs. imperishable
  2. dishonor vs. glory
  3. weakness vs. power
  4. "soulish" vs. spiritual
We can follow this with one last pair: First Adam vs. Last Adam (Christ).  Adam died (and stayed dead), Christ died, but was raised to life.

Once again, the distinction here is not between material and non-material but between mortality and immortality.

One can see this same thought, the contrast between mortality/decay/death and immortality and life in Romans 8:18-23 where it is not only humans that will partake in this new form of existence, but the entire material creation will undergo a transformation.  The verses are as follows:
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (NRSV)
So, Paul thinks that all of creation will take part in this transformation and will not longer be in "bondage to decay."  It is not material vs. non-material for Paul, but perishable vs. imperishable.  If there is a dualism in Paul on this matter at all, it is a dualism of time: this present age vs. the age to come, before the resurrection vs. after the resurrection.  What do you think?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Resurrection and Plato Part II

In Part I of this series I discussed the difficulty of squaring Paul's teaching on the resurrection found in I Corinthians chapter 15 with Plato's dualistic worldview. Specifically I pointed out that Plato clearly divides between a material body(soma)/flesh(sarx) and a non-material soul(psyche)/spirit(pneuma). Thus, in a Platonic view, earthly/material life is lived in a body made of flesh, and after the death of the body, the non-material soul/spirit lives on in a non-material reality (heaven/world of forms).  The problem is that Paul does not split reality this way.  Instead of material/non-material, Paul seems to have a dualism of time: before and after the resurrection.  Moreover, before the resurrection life is lived in a "soulish" (psychikos) body, and after the resurrection it is a spiritual (pneumatikos) body.  This does not square with Platonic reality in two ways. 1) It characterizes life on earth with the psyche and 2) it has a body in both realities.

I am currently reading through Sanders' recent volume on Paul (E. P. Sanders, Paul: The Apostle's Life, Letters, and Thought, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015).) and he notes this very same thing.  He even happens upon the same awkward word "soulish" to translate psychikos.  Sanders notes, as I have also in the past, that Paul's use of psychikos to describe life before the resurrection is almost certainly dictated by his proof text which is Genesis 2:7, which reads:
"then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man [adam] became a living being. (NRSV).
Paul uses this verse to bolster his argument, and quotes it as follows in 15:45:
 “The first man, Adam, became a living being”
In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, which is most likely what Paul was familiar with as his Bible),  "living being" is the translation of the Greek "psychen zosan" or "living soul).  So, Adam was a living psyche, who of course would die, so the second Adam (Christ) was a "life giving spirit" (pneuma).

It is this verse, Paul's proof text from Genesis 2:7, that has controlled Paul's terminology and dictated his contrast between the "soulish" (psychikos) body and the spiritual (pneumatikos) body.  It is clear that Paul is not using the Greek terminology in the Platonic sense, because his terms do not line up with Plato's division of reality into material and non-material realms.  But, if he is not operating from a Platonic worldview, then what worldview was controlling his thought?

I would argue that Paul's controlling worldview, his controlling view of reality is a predominately Jewish worldview as displayed in the Old Testament.  That Jewish worldview rejects most Greek dualisms.  The Old Testament worldview does not split reality into material and non-material.  Rather, Creation, both the heavens (read sky) and earth are part of material creation.  Nor does the Old Testament split humans into material and non-material parts.  Rather, the human is a whole, a living being (see Gen 2:7) who is given life by the breath (spirit) of God.  In Genesis 2:7, a living being is a living nephesh, which is a Hebrew word meaning self, person, life, etc.  The word is often translated into Greek as psyche, as is the case in Gen 2:7, and thus is sometimes translated into English as soul.  But we are not talking about Plato's non-material soul that lives on after the body dies.  In Hebrew thought, the nephesh encompassed the whole person.

Here are E.P. Sanders words on the non-dualistic nature of Judaism, because I think they are instructive here:
"In general, Judaism is fundamentally against dualism, though some forms of Judaism accepted some forms of dualism.  But at the root of Judaism is the belief that there is only one true God, who is good, and who created the world, declaring it to be good too (e.g., Gen. 1:31). Christianity inherited this view, and the Jewish view of creation helped it fight off some of the worst aspects of dualism (especially the denigration of bodily pleasure), though it also accepted some.  The battle between dualism and monotheism went on for centuries, and resulted in a stalemate; to this day there is no final solution of the problem. (Sanders, Paul, 407). 
I would say, with Sanders, that what Paul writes in I Cor. 15 represents his predominately Jewish worldview and rejection of both dualistic reality and dualistic humanity. But, as a comment on my last post stated:
I can't guess what Paul meant by that distinction [psychikos vs. pneumatikos, before and after resurrection], if it wasn't the distinction between spiritual and physical.
Or, to rephrase, if Paul was not talking in I Corinthians 15 about a move from material (physical) to non-material (spiritual) existence, then what distinction is he making?  That will be the topic of my next post.  Stay tuned.