Of proof texts and ghosts: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 2

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Does the Bible actually teach that souls live on when the body dies? Short story: no.

In part 1 of this series I looked at what the Bible does say about the mind-body question. You should read that before you read this post. In short, in Scripture there’s a fairly clear portrait of human beings as physical and mortal, returning to the earth when we die, and depending on the resurrection of the dead for any future life beyond the grave. The familiar view of human beings as immaterial souls that inhabit physical bodies and live on when the body dies is not one supported in the Bible.

But is it really that simple? The evidence we saw last time was surprisingly clear, but still, some Christian readers of Scripture are resistant to this message. There are some passages in the Bible – although not many – that seem to some Christians to suppose that actually human beings do not die when their bodies die, but they actually live on in non-material form. Their souls don’t die. Some passages of the Bible, some people think, teach dualism because they teach that the soul outlives the body.

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Dust ‘n Breath: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 1

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This might surprise some people, but embracing a biblical worldview gives us reasons to be mind-body materialists rather than dualists.

I first rejected mind-body dualism not because of any sort of scientific scepticism but because of what I started to see in the Bible when I started looking.1 For what it’s worth, I think other Christians should do the same. Continue reading “Dust ‘n Breath: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 1”

  1. Specifically, I mean substance dualism, a view most clearly represented by the French philosopher René Descartes, or in classical thought by Plato. Materialism as a view of human beings is compatible with property dualism, with emergentism or with hylemorphism (in which a human being, like any other creature, is a compound of matter and form), in spite of the fact that the word dualism is used to describe each. The key is that these are views where the only substance involved is a physical substance. []

Paul, Genesis and Gender

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How did St Paul read the creation story?

There are a couple of ways of reading the two creation stories in the early chapters of the book of Genesis. Actually there are probably quite a few ways, but I’m interested in two ways just now. I’ll call these two ways the “literal” way and the “didactic” way, as one of these ways treats the creation stories as primarily serving the function of recounting literal history just like modern historians do, and the other way treats the main function of the creation stories as teaching truths about God, God’s relationship to human beings and our place in the world, using the story as a medium of doing so.

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Nuts and Bolts 016: The Root Fallacy

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Did you know that I’m an Apostle? It’s true! My ex sent me packing, and the word “apostle” in the Bible comes from a Greek word that means “sent one.” Don’t argue with the Bible, this is what the Greek means!

You probably haven’t heard anyone make an argument quite like this, because to do so would expose just how absurd this sort of reasoning is. This instalment of the “nuts and bolts” series is all about the root fallacy, one of the most common mistakes that a lot of sincere, well-meaning people make when interpreting the Bible. The root fallacy is committed where a person assumes that the meaning of a word must be bound to the meaning of its etymological root.

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More than one way to skin a cat: Taking care with the rules of Hebrew

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Can you really annihilate what the translators and dictionaries say by simply gesturing to a well known rule in Hebrew? Probably not!

When learning a biblical language – or when just learning a few things about a biblical language for that matter, seminary students or preachers can sometimes start to feel like they’ve gained super powers – and now with just the effortless and universal application of a few of the rules they’ve learned, they can nail down exactly what the writer meant and thereby amaze their peers, win every argument and floor their congregation with their prowess. Continue reading “More than one way to skin a cat: Taking care with the rules of Hebrew”

Are “fundies” inconsistent on homosexuality?

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It happens far too often that somebody thinks that they are criticisng simplistic fundamentalism, when in fact they are the practitioner, rather than the genuine critic, of simplistic thinking.

Someone recently pointed out a video clip of a guy named John talking about homosexual relationships and the Bible. This is the point where I would normally offer a one-sentence summary of what his central claim is, but I’m not absolutely sure what it is. It has something to do with homosexuality, the f-word (fundamentalists), and consistency. Here’s the clip:

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Pacifism, Matthew 5 and “Turning the other cheek”

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Long story short: “Turning the other cheek” does not mean becoming a pacifist. But some of you may require more persuasion than that, so keep reading.

On the 27th of October 2012 I enjoyed taking part in a panel discussion for Elephant TV on Christian views on war. Dr Chris Marshall (a former lecturer of mine) and Adrian Leason spoke on behalf of the Christian pacifist view, and Rev. Captain Paul Stanaway and I represented a just war perspective. Elephant TV is a fairly unique forum in New Zealand, bringing together Christians from different perspectives on contentious issues in front of an audience and cameras, getting a summary of their side of the story and putting questions to them to discuss. I think the event – and the series as a whole – is a fantastic idea to give exposure within the Christian community to the “elephant in the room” (where the show gets its title), those issues that we know are there and are important, but aren’t necessarily being discussed in churches in a way where all sides get a fair hearing.

The hope of all of this of course is not just that people will hear somebody say something they like and make up their mind on the spot, but that they will gain a new perspective to help them think more about these things for themselves. We were only able to scratch the surface of some of the issues mentioned, and as I said to people after the recording – there’s so much that we’d all no doubt like to have added, responded to, explained further, but that’s what blogs are for! Being stimulated to focus again on the issues of pacifism, the use of force and the role of Scripture in the discussion has meant that my thoughts have been occupied by some of the biblical material that frequently becomes part of the arsenal (pun intended) of Christian pacifists. Over the next little while I’ll be discussing some of that biblical material.

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Letting the Bible Interpret Itself?

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What does it mean to say that we should use Scripture to understand Scripture?

A discussion that I was having today reminded me of an issue that you hear about often when discussing biblical interpretation with Evangelicals (among whom I count myself). That issue was the practice of using Scripture to interpret Scripture. It took me back to great textbooks that I was reading in my undergrad years and prior (books like Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard’s Introduction to Biblical Interpretation) and to classes with Bill Osborne and Chris Marshall (“Interpretative Method”). It’s a fairly significant issue if only because of the way that it shapes the way so many people understand the Bible, and the discussion I was part of today has prompted me to write down some of my thoughts on the use – and abuse – of the practice of using Scripture to interpret Scripture. Continue reading “Letting the Bible Interpret Itself?”

Degrees of hell?

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Do some people get burned worse than others in hell? Some people think so.

This is the second blog entry in a row on the way that some evangelicals (fewer all the time, thankfully) insist on saying that the Bible – and the New Testament in particular – teaches that some people are going to suffer eternal torment in hell. I won’t make too much of a habit of it, but this entry was prompted by one of the comments on the previous one.

Some have said that the New Testament teaches that there will be degrees of suffering in hell throughout eternity. In the traditional vision of hell as a torture chamber of fire and sulphur, you could think of some people being roasted at 500 degrees Celsius, while others are merely blistering at 100. In more recent, milder descriptions perhaps people might think of deeper levels of remorse or mental anguish, and perhaps a century from now it will be expressed in terms of some people feeling more angsty or bummed out than others. The point is, although hell is posited as the worst possible state that a person can find themselves in, there will still be some people in hell who can correctly say “things could be worse I suppose.”

This doctrinal claim is made as a reason to reject annihilationism. After all, if the punishment for sin is ultimately death in a straight forward literal sense after the judgement, as annihilationists say, then everyone gets the same punishment. But if there are degrees of punishment in hell then not everyone gets the same punishment, so annihilationism has got to be false.

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Does John 1:3 rule out uncreated abstract objects?

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When John 1:3 says that God made all things, does that mean that uncreated abstract objects don’t exist?

A friend today brought my attention to his question, put to William Lane Craig, on whether or not the existence of uncreated abstract objects is compatible with biblical teaching. The question concerns a disagreement that Bill Craig has with Peter Van Inwagen of Notre Dame University. It might be helpful, therefore, if I outline the background to the disagreement.

Peter Van Inwagen believes in platonic or abstract objects. These are non-physical, eternal things that do not need to be created but just exist. Examples would include the number 1, properties, and even possible worlds. These objects exist necessarily, says Van Inwagen. They exist in all possible worlds. This means, for example, “that the number 510 would exist no matter what.”1

Now we should be careful how we characterise this notion of “existence.” Van Inwagen adds:

If the notion of an abstract object makes sense at all, it seems evident that if everything were an abstract object, if the only objects were abstract objects, there is an obvious and perfectly good sense in which there would be nothing at all, for there would be no physical things, no stuffs, no events, no space, no time, no Cartesian egos, no God. When people want to know why there is anything at all, they want to know why that bleak state of affairs does not obtain.2

Abstract objects, according to Van Inwagen, are not “out there” in the world of things in creation. If they were the only things that existed, then in the same sense that people ask why there is something rather than nothing, nothing would really exist. Speaking this way, then, “all things” that exist can be thought of in an everyday sense not to include abstract objects. This clarification is necessary in order to avoid misunderstandings of Van Inwagen’s view.

Bill Craig doesn’t think this is an acceptable position for a Christian to hold. He believes that the existence of uncreated abstract objects is at irreconcilable odds with both the Nicene Creed and – more importantly for most Christians – with the teaching of the Bible. The opening words of the Nicene Creed affirm that God is the creator of all things, both “seen and unseen.” What is more, the author of the Gospel of John, in chapter 1 verse 3, says that through the logos (seen as a reference to Christ)ings were made.” Van Inwagen then, holds to a view that is incompatible with historic and biblical Christianity, says Craig.

Continue reading “Does John 1:3 rule out uncreated abstract objects?”

  1. Peter Van Inwagen, Ontology, Identity, and Modality: Essays in Metaphysics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 58. []
  2. Van Inwagen, Ontology, Identity, and Modality, 58. []