Every Christian who decides on a stance to take on the mind-body issue is going to have to live with the fact that there will be certain “problem texts” in the Bible that appear to conflict with the position they take. As a physicalist, I think there is a very small number of such texts for my view, and I think there are plausible explanations for all of them (for example Jesus’ words to the criminal on the cross Luke 23:43, which I discussed recently). What one hopes to do is to settle on a view that has fewer problems than all others, problems that have an explanation in sight.
I think that traditional Cartesian/platonic dualism has a real problem, therefore, when it comes to 1 Corinthians 15, as I think it contains a problem for dualism – a problem with no real solution that I can see. The chapter is a decent size, so I won’t reproduce it here, but go ahead and read it first to make sure I’m representing what it says faithfully. The subject is the resurrection of the dead, and it arises because some of those in the church in Corinth had said that there will be no resurrection. The Apostle Paul makes a number of comments on this, one of which concerns my point here. In doing so he indicates that he cannot possibly have been a dualist.
v 12ff: Paul notes the disastrous consequences for the doctrine of salvation if there is no resurrection of the dead. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.” The upshot of this is that “you are still in your sins,” and there is no salvation and no resurrection for us. If this is true, said Paul, then we are the “most miserable” of people.
v 20ff: Having established this, once that we acknowledge that Christ has risen, we know that the dead will rise. For as part of Christ’s reign and his victory (obtained through his own resurrection), he will eventually defeat death. “ For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (vv 25-26).
v 29ff: But there is still a further argument up Paul’s sleeve. If this were not going to happen – if there is no future resurrection for us, then a couple of things arise. Firstly, why do you get baptised for the dead? (i.e. their behaviour shows that they themselves assume the resurrection). More to the point if there’s no resurrection, then this life is all there is. If there’s no future resurrection, we have no future hope at all. Why invest in the future when there isn’t one? Here’s the way Paul put it (vv 30-32):
Why am I in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
Here is what I want you to notice: If dualism, as held by many Christians and as held by many Gentiles in Paul’s day, is true, then there is life after death with or without the resurrection.
Christian dualists will tell you that when the body dies, the soul (of the believer) goes to be with the Lord in heaven (or paradise, depending on who you’re asking). This is a wonderful place, even though there will still be a resurrection of the dead in the future when the soul will again become embodied. But the point is, even if there were not a resurrection, there would still be some hope of a future life.
Now look again at Paul’s point, quoted above. He is asking why he would even bother to risk his life for the Gospel if there’s no bodily resurrection. The dualist’s answer would be: Because you would still have heaven to hope for, which in itself is wonderful. But Paul supposes no such thing. He goes a step further: If there’s no bodily resurrection, then we may as well just live it up now. Eat, drink, and be merry, because if there’s no resurrection, then when you die that’s the end. His argument works if and only if we do not survive death in any way until the resurrection of the dead. If we do – if there is even a whiff of dualism and a heavenly intermediate state in Paul’s theology, then a switched on Corinthian could have immediately deflated his argument.
If you’re a Christian and you advocate dualism, and you say that your soul goes to be with the Lord at death, then you’re robbing Paul of this argument for the resurrection. As I type this, I’m reminded of the fact that William Tyndale made this exact same observation. For those who don’t know, William Tyndale was a martyr who made the first translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English. He got into a written dispute with Thomas More over the question of the soul’s immortality. More claimed that when the body dies, the soul of the believer goes to be with Christ. Tyndale immediately saw how this gutted Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15 of any force, and replied sarcastically, as though rebuking the Apostle:
Nay, Paul, thou art unlearned; go to Master More, and learn a new way. We be not most miserable, though we rise not again; for our souls go to heaven as soon as we be dead, and are there in as great joy as Christ that is risen again.
William Tyndale, Answer to Thomas More’s Dialogue (Cambridge University Press, 1850), 118. (download this book HERE)
Like William Tyndale, I just don’t see how the argument against dualism from 1 Corinthians 15 can be successfully addressed. Your suggestions are welcome.
- “God of the Living” – William Tyndale and the Resurrection
- Tom Wright: Wrong about Soul Sleep
- Philosophy of Mind and the “Hyperpreterist” controversy
- "Most of whom are still alive" – The Apostle Paul on witnesses to the resurrection
- Episode 023: Imagine There’s No Heaven