Body, Soul, And Life Everlasting


This widely acclaimed study of biblical anthropology is available once more along with a substantial new preface by the author. Fully engaged with theological, philosophical, and scientific discussions on the nature of human persons and their destiny beyond the grave, John Cooper's defense of "holistic dualism" remains the most satisfying and biblical response to come from the monism-dualism debate. First published in 1989, Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting is required reading for Christian philosophers, ...
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This widely acclaimed study of biblical anthropology is available once more along with a substantial new preface by the author. Fully engaged with theological, philosophical, and scientific discussions on the nature of human persons and their destiny beyond the grave, John Cooper's defense of "holistic dualism" remains the most satisfying and biblical response to come from the monism-dualism debate. First published in 1989, Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting is required reading for Christian philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and students interested in the mind-body question.
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Editorial Reviews

Theology Today
In a time when the traditional theological distinction between soul and body, or between spiritual and corporeal aspects of human nature, has frequently been dismissed as an unbiblical and psychologically untenable dualism, John Cooper offers a balanced and well-constructed argument in defense of the traditional perspective.
Books & Culture
Perhaps the most substantial contemporary defense of the traditional understanding of the soul.
Religious Studies Review
Cooper's overview of the debate and logical analysis of the issues involved are admirable. This book will be of interest to scholars of biblical anthropology and eschatology.
Alvin Plantinga
Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting is careful, thoughtful, and thorough; it provides a much-needed antidote to the facile endorsements of mind-body monism so characteristic of contemporary theology and philosophy.
C. Stephen Evans
This work should be required reading for Christian philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and others interested in the perennial question as to the nature of human persons and their destiny beyond the grave.
The Thomist
Cooper provides the exhilarating prospect of permitting us to remain properly and fashionably ‘holistic' about human nature while yet affirming the ‘dualism' implicit in Scripture and tradition.... Cogent and illuminating.
Philosophy of Religion
A clearly written, well-argued defense of mind-body dualism. Anyone with interest in the religious implications of alternative theories of mind, and especially the bearing of these theories on convictions about the afterlife, will find Cooper's work valuable.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802846006
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 10/1/2000
  • Series: Philosophical Theology Series
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,097,924
  • Product dimensions: 0.61 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

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Preface to the Second Printing

I. The Original Argument

It is fair to ask why a book a decade old and out of print for several years should be republished. The short answer is that it stands up well in addressing issues and arguments that continue to be widely contended. It presents a case that remains relevant, robust, and right on target. A lot has been written since the book appeared. But instead of revising it extensively to dialogue with current scholarship, I reintroduce it by surveying recent contributions to the monism-dualism debate and indicating how the original version is still engaging.

Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting was written to remind thoughtful Christians that some sort of "dualistic" anthropology is entailed by the biblical teaching of the intermediate state, a doctrine that is affirmed by the vast majority in historic Christianity. The book makes the case that as Holy Scripture progressively discloses what happens to humans when they die, it teaches not only that each of us will undergo bodily resurrection, but that believers continue to exist "with the Lord" until the resurrection. The Old Testament notion of ghostly survival in Sheol, eventually augmented with an affirmation of bodily resurrection, is developed by the Holy Spirit into the New Testament revelation of fellowship with Christ between each believer's death and the general resurrection at Christ's return. Thus the Bible indicates that humans do not cease to exist between death and resurrection, a condition sometimes euphemistically termed "soul sleep," or that final resurrection occurs immediately upon death.

Body, Soul goes on to argue that, given this teaching of Scripture, human nature must be so constituted that we—the very individuals who live on earth—can exist at least temporarily while our physical bodies or organisms do not. In other words, there must be enough of a duality in human nature so that God can sustain Moses, Paul, and my mother in fellowship with him even though they are currently without their earthly bodies. At the same time, I follow Scripture, most traditional theology, and almost all current thought in emphasizing the unity of human nature, its essential bodiliness, and resurrection as the final Christian hope. All things considered, therefore, the biblical view of the human constitution is some kind of "holistic dualism."

The argument of the book is mainly exegesis and theological reflection on Scripture, only touching on some of the philosophical aspects of the body-soul or mind-body problem. It does not endorse a particular philosophical anthropology, such as that of Augustine, Thomas, Descartes, or Kant. But it does identify a condition that a philosophical account of human nature must meet in order to be consistent with what most of the holy catholic church affirms as a teaching of Scripture. To challenge the soundness of the book's conclusion about the constitution of human nature would require a strong, fully elaborated historical-exegetical-theological case against the claim that the Bible envisions an intermediate state between humans' death and their bodily resurrection.

II. Recent Affirmations of the Traditional Christian Position

One recent piece of evidence that the traditional doctrine still thrives among large numbers of faithful Christians is found in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Consider its exposition of the Apostles' Creed's article on the resurrection: "In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body" (par. 997). The duality required by this doctrine of the afterlife is clearly stated, while the unity of human nature is also strongly emphasized: "The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual" (par. 362). "The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the 'form' of the body;... spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature" (par. 366).

The historic doctrine is still articulated by leading theologians. For example, Joseph Ratzinger, now Cardinal and head of the Roman Catholic Magisterium, has done so extensively in Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life. This work briefly surveys the same biblical and intertestamental texts considered in Body, Soul and comes to virtually identical conclusions. It strongly defends the intermediate state and the reunification of human nature in the final resurrection at the return of Christ.

This reading of the relevant texts and their historical background remains standard fare in biblical scholarship. For example, E. P. Sanders has recently affirmed that the same variety of beliefs about personal eschatology that were identified in Body, Soul as background for the New Testament can be found in Judaism during the first century A.D. Tom Wright makes a similar point, identifying three standard views: The first, held by the Sadducees, denies the afterlife. The second was held by Hellenistic Jews, influenced by Plato, who affirmed the immortal soul and sometimes also the resurrection. The third group, the majority, "speak of the bodily resurrection of the dead and frequently address the problem of an inter-mediate state...." The evidence from intertestamental Judaism crucial to Body, Soul's reading of the relevant New Testament texts continues to be recognized by leading scholars.

Scripture commentators follow suit. To take one important text, for example, recent exegeses of Jesus' promise of Paradise "today" to the dying thief in Luke 23:43 still treat it as a clear reference to an intermediate state. According to Robert Stein, it is a "temporary state of... conscious experience with Jesus in paradise." Whatever doctrinal inferences are made from such texts, historical evidence for the traditional reading has not been eroded or successfully reinterpreted in recent scholarship. An example from Paul's epistles is Ben Witherington III's exegesis of 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, a classic text for the intermediate state: "Paul speaks of three states: the present condition in the tent-like frame, the intermediate state of nakedness ...and the future condition ...the resurrection body." The historic interpretation of Scripture continues to flourish.

The traditional view of human nature has also been embraced and defended in different ways by Christian philosophers during this decade. Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and Keith Yandell continue to affirm substance dualism. Charles Taliaferro has published a philosophical defense of "integrative dualism" in extensive dialogue with current alternative views. Stephen Davis has endorsed and defended dualism in an extensive apologetics for the resurrection. Gary Habermas and J. P. Moreland have done the same in their multidisciplinary case for immortality. Moreland and Scott Rae have elaborated a lengthy exegetical and philosophical defense of body-soul dualism in relation to contemporary ethical issues. Substance dualism is not such an intellectually discredited or outdated view that competent philosophers are unwilling to defend it.

Other Christian philosophers, influenced by the Thomistic tradition, have elaborated more substantially holistic views of human nature that affirm a duality sufficient to allow for temporary personal existence apart from the body. David Braine uses contemporary philosophical tools to articulate a concept of humans as language-using animals that is a holistic alternative both to substance dualism and materialism and yet accounts for the possibility of personal transcendence of biological death. Eleonore Stump has developed an explicitly Thomistic anthropology in dialogue with current philosophy, brain science, and genetics. Jeffrey Boyd, a practicing psychiatrist and Episcopal clergyman, has recently advocated a similar view of the human constitution as necessary for promoting emotional-spiritual health, as well as for maintaining the Christian view of the afterlife. The Thomistic tradition has generated substantive contributions to recent discussions of the body-soul question.

The first edition of Body, Soul also considers the possibility that John Cobb, who embraces process philosophy in the tradition of Whitehead and Hartshorne, might provide a view of human nature that is holistic and yet dualistic enough to allow for personal survival of death. This "process" approach to the body-mind problem has since been developed more fully by David Ray Griffin. Although my original questions about the consistency of process anthropology with an intermediate state have not been answered, his work deserves to be noted.

One position that was mentioned in Body, Soul but not given serious consideration is emergentism. This is a version of materialism that is arguably consistent with the possibility of an intermediate state. According to this theory, human beings begin to exist as purely material organisms, but the person with all of his or her mental-spiritual capabilities normally emerges as the organism develops and grows. Thus the human person is an entity that is distinct from his or her organism, generated by it and interacting with it, but that cannot naturally exist or function without it. At death, however, God supernaturally maintains the person with her mental-spiritual capacities in existence until the resurrection. William Hasker continues to promote this solution to the mind-body problem. Although I still have reservations about it, I think that emergentism, if philosophically tenable, could offer a materialist philosophy of human nature that is consistent with the traditional Christian doctrine of the after-life. If so, this is a significant development in the millenia-old debate.

III. Recent Affirmations of Alternative Positions

In spite of the fact that beliefs in an intermediate state and the separability of persons from their earthly bodies are currently defended by leading biblical scholars, theologians, and philosophers, sincere and thoughtful Christians continue to challenge these beliefs.

Some standard works on the New Testament simply ignore the traditional view. They present intertestamental Jewish and New Testament eschatology in terms of a straightforward alternative between the "Greek" idea of the immortality of the soul and the "biblical" idea of the resurrection of the body, failing even to consider the evidence for a third position, belief in an intermediate state that would combine aspects of the other views.

Other scholars directly challenge the traditional view. The most extensive recent biblical-theological case for an alternative position is Samuele Bacchiocchi's Immortality or Resurrection? Evangelical theologian Clark Pinnock has given an enthusiastic endorsement in the Foreword. Bacchiocchi defends the Seventh-Day Adventist appropriation of the "soul-sleep" eschatology inherited from a Reformation Anabaptist tradition. This book, perhaps the best defense of its position to date, is extensively documented and generally well-argued. Its emphases on the unity of human nature, the essential goodness of the human body, and the inclusion of the renewed earth in God's everlasting Kingdom highlight important biblical themes. But in my judgment the book's case against the inter-mediate state is invalidated by several factors. The entire argument proceeds from the assumption that the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body are mutually exclusive, which is a false dilemma. It also fails to do full justice to the Old Testament belief that Sheol is a real place of the dead and avoids the hard data that some intertestamental Jews affirmed a conscious intermediate state, even referring to it as "sleep." Consequently it does not take full measure of the evidence that some New Testament texts most likely imply an intermediate state or refer to the human soul or spirit as existing apart from the body. In the final analysis Bacchiocchi's biblical-theological argument for "soul sleep" does not so much challenge the case for the traditional teaching as skillfully reassert an alternative view.

Joel Green has published several works in which he argues that "the dominant view of the human person in the New Testament is ontological monism" and rejects the claim that it countenances a "separable soul." He admits that intertestamental Judaism displays a variety of views of the afterlife and that the dualist reading of the New Testament has some textual basis. But he does not consider this evidence sufficient to justify the traditional position. While I agree with Green on many points of exegesis and on his theological affirmation of the holism of our final hope, I find his arguments for an alternative to the traditional position incomplete and unsound. For instance, he criticizes Body, Soul for claiming that the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 teaches the intermediate state even though I am careful to say that this text on its own is not a prooftext for the intermediate state, but is about wealth and love for neighbor. I return to draw from it only after establishing that Luke does affirm an intermediate state in 23:43, Jesus' promise of Paradise to the dying thief. In making his own case, however, Green first denies that Luke 16 suggests anything at all about an intermediate state and then avoids the topic when commenting on 23:43, thus failing to engage the debate about this important aspect of Luke's eschatology. Another example of an insufficient argument is his alternative reading of 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. In attempting to avoid a disembodied intermediate state in this text, Green fails to consider 2 Corinthians 5:6-9, 12:2-4, and Philippians 1:20-24, where Paul, although he does not use the words "soul" or "spirit," explicitly refers to his own personal existence ("I") separated from his body. In general, Green plays down the evidence for the intermediate state and dualism in Scripture instead of either refuting it or providing an alternative reading that is shown to be as comprehensive and coherent as the traditional view. Nonetheless, anti-dualists find in Green exegetical justification for a materialist view of human nature and the afterlife.

Such views have been articulated and defended by a new generation of Christian philosophers. Most of them have adopted materialism for philosophical reasons, mainly problems with dualism and scientific advances in correlating mental activities with brain functions. However, many have also asserted that their views are consistent with Scripture because it teaches bodily resurrection, not the immortality of the soul or temporary disembodied survival. Their greatest challenge has been explaining how the resurrection person/body is identical with the original person/body.

Peter van Inwagen marked this path at the beginning of the decade in Material Beings, where he gives a materialist ontology of everything in nature, including all of human nature. He has searched for accounts of bodily resurrection consistent with his position. He has also argued that dualism and the intermediate state are more in the minds of Platonistic readers of Scripture than in the biblical text itself, fully aware of the significance of his allegation that the entire Christian tradition is mistaken.

A number of philosophers have followed van Inwagen's lead. Lynne Rudder Baker has argued that a materialist approach to human existence is more consistent with the Bible's view of humans as psychophysical unities and its promise of bodily resurrection. She surveys several scenarios for what follows death, claiming that "many different philosophical positions are consistent with the scant clues to be found in the Bible." Interestingly, she even suggests that if there is an intermediate state, an interim body could account for it. Kevin Corcoran has developed similar ideas, claiming that persons are not identical with their bodies but "constituted" by them. He suggests that at death a kind of "fission" might occur whereby the earthly body becomes two things: a corpse and a bodily-person that could exist in an intermediate state. Trenton Merricks affirms that human persons are essentially physical-bodily beings and argues that a person's resurrected body can be the very same body as her earthly body even though there is a temporal gap in its existence. He gives reasons for rejecting dualism and an intermediate state and considers a number of texts in claiming that Scripture is on his side. Though not materialists, Stephen Davis and Dean Zimmerman have offered different accounts of how materialists might explain the numerical identity of earthly and resurrected humans in spite of a gap of nonexistence between death and resurrection.

Perhaps the best-known and most popular philosopher currently promoting Christian anti-dualism is Nancey Murphy. She regards the body-soul question as one of many debates within the Christian tradition that involve false dilemmas resulting from wrongly polarized philosophical starting points. She advocates a more "holistic" approach, which in the case of human nature is neither substance dualism nor standard materialism but non-reductive physicalism. This is the view that "the person is a physical organism whose complex functioning, both in society and in relation to God, gives rise to 'higher' human capacities such as morality and spirituality." She has co-edited and contributed two chapters to Whatever Happened to the Soul?, a collection of essays by Christian biologists, psychologists, ethicists, philosophers, and theologians, defending and articulating physicalism. She has promoted it among the broader community of thoughtful Christians in the review journal, Books and Culture. She contends that "Christians can get along quite nicely with a view of the human being as a purely physical creation—one whose capacities for consciousness, social interaction, moral reasoning, and relationship with Godarise as a result of the incredible complexity of the brain." With respect to dualism and the afterlife she asserts that "In the Hebrew Bible, human life is regularly understood monistically rather than dualistically, and this unified being is a physical being." "New Testament writers recognize a variety of conceptions of the composition or makeup of the human being but do not teach body-soul dualism." "Original Christian hope for life after death is based on bodily resurrection, patterned after that of Jesus, not on immortality of the soul." Physicalism is acceptable because it is compatible with Christian belief, she assures us, and it is superior to dualistic views in matters of philosophy and science, especially epistemology, neurophysiology, and psychology.

IV. Body, Soul and the Traditional Position Once Again

The monism-dualism debate among Christian thinkers continues unabated, perhaps more vigorously now than when Body, Soul first appeared. Having reviewed recent contributions to the dialogue, I reassert my original position, then offer a concession, and finally propose an addition to terminology. I must reaffirm my claim that the New Testament teaches an intermediate state of fellowship with Christ for believers. None of the exegetical and theological works on this topic or the ad hoc efforts of non-theologians have come close to offering an alternative explanation of the evidence or refuting it. Recent discussions continue to suffer from the same deficiencies as their predecessors. One typical mistake is the assumption that the (temporary) existence of a person without a body and bodily resurrection are mutually exclusive alternatives. This is simply false. An intermediate state ought not to be confused with a Platonic notion of "the immortal soul," as amply demonstrated in Body, Soul. A second typical mistake of commentators and theologians is failure to take all the relevant intra- and extra-biblical data into consideration when making pronouncements about biblical texts. The Gospels cannot be read apart from the eschatology of first-century Judaism. No Pauline text can be exegeted without considering everything Paul had to say about being "apart from the body," the time of the resurrection, and his own education in Jewish orthodoxy and Greek thought. My reading of recent discussions has not found anything that seriously challenges the case for the intermediate state made in Body, Soul.

Thus I continue to believe that the intermediate state is a teaching of Scripture. I still recognize that it is not a primary doctrine, such as Jesus' resurrection and ours, which are clearly and frequently asserted by Scripture and confessed by Christians universally in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. But although there is less evidence and emphasis, I do not think that Scripture is silent or confused or polyvocal on the issue. The cumulative testimony of the Bible is consistent, relatively unambiguous, and sufficient to assert the intermediate state as doctrine, just as the great majority of teachers in Christian tradition have done. Since Christians ought to believe what the Bible teaches, we ought to believe that there is an intermediate state. Although we may find views of human nature incompatible with this doctrine to be attractive or advantageous for other reasons, we ought to eschew them. One must have sufficient reason for denying or completely revising what the historic Christian church has affirmed as the teaching of Scripture and proclaimed to comfort millions of people who have mourned at gravesides: Our loved ones are with the Lord until the resurrection. None of the recent biblical and theological discussions are nearly sufficient to justify the wholesale revisionism or agnosticism that some propose.

Are recent philosophical and scientific discussions sufficient? In a word, no. Although great advances have been made in understanding the functions of the brain and their correlation with various mental states, there is no conceptual need to abandon a doctrinally required dualism in favor of monism. Nancey Murphy is candid about this. After surveying the advances in brain science she admits: "it is still possible to claim that there is a substantial mind and that its operations are neatly correlated with brain events.... It follows, then, that no amount of evidence from neuro-science can prove a physicalist view of the mental." This point, made in Body, Soul, still holds. Christian philosophers and scientists need not adopt conceptual paradigms that implicitly contradict sound doctrine.

But now I must make a concession of sorts. Perhaps there are physicalistic theories of human nature that are compatible with an intermediate state. In Body, Soul I argue for "dualism" in the sense that persons must be able by God's power to exist temporarily without their earthly organisms, which become corpses. I do not claim that substance dualism is the only way to meet this condition. However, I do not seriously consider whether a materialist anthropology could meet it. I now concede this possibility. Earlier in this introduction I noted William Hasker's emergentism, the view that persons are distinct from though generated by their organisms. On this account, God's supernatural power could maintain persons in conscious existence apart from their bodies until the resurrection. Also mentioned above is Kevin Corcoran's hypothesis, that at death the physical body "divides" into a corpse and a bodily-person who exists during an intermediate state. Both theories are forms of physicalism and both allow the possibility of personal existence apart from the earthly body between death and resurrection. At the same time, however, both theories are kinds of dualism as defined in Body, Soul since both posit a "dichotomy" at death between the organism and the subsistent person. I do not know whether these theories are philosophically tenable all things considered and whether they are consistent with other Christian doctrines. I find them to be counter-intuitive and no less conceptually problematic than dualism is alleged to be, since they are almost kinds of substance dualism in disguise. My own philosophical position continues to waffle between substance dualism and the soul-matter holism of the Thomistic tradition. But I must concede that these versions of physicalism are prima facie consistent with traditional eschatology. If I am correct, this is a significant development that may bear fruit in the monism-dualism debate.

Finally, let me propose an addition to terminology. Body, Soul promotes "holistic dualism," a term chosen to capture both the unity of human nature and the possibility of personal existence without a body. John Kok, a Christian philosopher at Dordt College, suggested to me that "dualistic holism" might be more consistent with the biblical picture, which emphasizes the unity of human nature as created and redeemed by God and which treats death and temporary disembodiment as an unnatural privation. Kok has a point. I concede that "dualistic holism," if not a better term, is at least as good. The position I propose is open and flexible enough to bear both labels. If "dualistic holism" seems better to those who wish to emphasize unity instead of duality, I am pleased to endorse it.

Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting remains a relevant and substantive contribution to the monism-dualism debate. It sketches the contours of a view of human nature that reflects the entirety of biblical teaching, preserves the doctrine of Christian tradition, is consistent with the best philosophy, and is open to the most recent scientific discoveries. I am grateful for the interest that has led to its republication.

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Printing
Introduction: The Body-Soul Question: Still A Vexing Problem 1
1 Traditional Christian Anthropology and Its Modern Critics 7
2 Old Testament Anthropology: The Holistic Emphasis 33
3 Old Testament Anthropology: The Dualistic Implication 52
4 The Anthropology of Intertestamental Eschatology 73
5 The Monism-Dualism Debate about New Testament Anthropology 94
6 Anthropology And Personal Eschatology in the New Testament: The Non-Pauline Writings 110
7 Anthropology And Personal Eschatology in the New Testament: The Pauline Epistles 134
8 New Testament Eschatology and Philosophical Anthropology 158
9 Practical And Theological Objections against Dualism 179
10 Holistic Dualism, Science, and Philosophy 204
Index of Subjects 233
Index of Authors 236
Index of Scripture References 239
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