Read an Excerpt
Soma in Biblical TheologyWith Emphasis on Pauline Theology
By Robert H. Gundry
ZondervanCopyright © 1988 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSoma as the Whole Person: the Rise of a Definition
Because of his saying that God-talk is possible only through man-talk, theologians often charge Rudolf Bultmann with reducing theology to anthropology. Yet some of his most stimulating work appears in his exposition of Biblical anthropology, especially the Pauline view of man. So it is generally agreed. We may take the first volume of the Theology of the New Testament by Bultmann as indicative of his interest and major contribution. There he devotes but thirty-two pages to 'The Message of Jesus', thirty pages to 'The Kerygma of the Earliest Church', and one hundred and twenty-one pages to 'The Kerygma of the Hellenistic Church Aside from Paul' - but (not counting three pages on 'The Historical Position of Paul') one hundred and sixty-three pages to the Pauline doctrine of man. He even subsumes themes such as the righteousness of God, law, grace, faith, reconciliation, the Word, the Church, and the sacraments under the catch-word 'Man'.
Bultmann begins his specific remarks on Pauline anthropology with a discussion of soma, usually translated 'body'. Recognizing that the common (Bultmann says naive' and 'popular') meaning, 'the physical body', appears in a large number of instances, he nevertheless regards them as theologically unimportant. He goes on to argue, however, that in a number of passages where the term is theologically significant Paul uses soma in the sense of the human person as a whole: 'The most comprehensive term which Paul uses to characterize man's existence is soma, body' and 'Man, his person as a whole, can be denoted by soma.' We can hardly overestimate the importance of this definition, for Bultmann gives pride of place to Pauline theology, interprets Pauline theology as anthropology, and makes soma the key to that anthropology
For this view of soma's special meaning, Bultmann apparently has drawn upon his former teacher, J. Weiss. Expounding Paul's prohibition of immorality in I Corinthians 6, Weiss forsook the German idealistic understanding of soma as bodily form and sarx as fleshly substance, noted that in some places soma parallels the first personal pronoun, and concluded that soma can denote the person as such without reference to the physical body. Adopting this view in some of his early writings, Bultmann fully developed it in his Theology of the New Testaments.
The year after Theology of the New Testament appeared in English dress, J. A. T. Robinson's monograph The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology made its appearance. Widely regarded as a paradigm in the upsurge of Biblical theological studies after World War II, the book has had a profound effect - along with Bultmann's Theology of the New Testament - on current understanding of Paul's use of soma. Indeed, Robinson's work has been translated into French and Italian. Although he proceeds into Paul's ecclesiastical concept of the Body of Christ, Robinson begins by adopting and elaborating (with certain revisions to be noted later) Bultmann's holistic definition of soma.
So influential has been the authority of Bultmann and so persuasive his and Robinson's discussions that it has become orthodoxy among NT theologians to say that in Pauline literature, and perhaps elsewhere as well, soma frequently and characteristically refers to the whole person rather than especially, or exclusively, to the body. Sometimes the definition carries the qualification that soma refers to the whole man by metonymy or under the aspect of his physical body. To what extent these qualifications may or may not undermine the purported distinctiveness of the usage remains to be seen. At other times the definition remains unqualified. The meaning of soma may even be dematerialized completely. The holistic definition has become so widely accepted that virtually all recent handbooks, dictionaries, and studies of Pauline theology take it for granted with little or no felt need for argumentative justification. W. D. Stacey writes of 'Bultmann's conclusive treatment of this point'.
Typical of the more qualified statements is that of Bultmann's translator, K. Grobel, who explains that Paul does not materialistically equate man with his physical body but uses soma by metonymy for the whole self. 'Metonymy' may lead to confusion, however. Normally it has to do with the representation of one thing by another which is distinct though related. But Grobel does not appear to exclude the body from the whole man; at least the examples he draws from the LXX would not so indicate. 'Synecdoche', representation of the whole by a part, might more properly designate a usage of soma for the entire person (unless the physical body is meant to be excluded).
But whichever term, metonymy or synecdoche, correctly designates the view of soma here under discussion, the term presents a problem to the view it is meant to represent. For if by denying that Paul materialistically equates man with his physical body we mean that Paul does not limit man to his physical body, even a dualist would agree and, further, assent to a synecdochic use of soma. And synecdoche would indicate that the comprehensive sense of soma is only representative - i.e., figurative. But a figurative usage in which the body not only is itself but also represents the rest of a person - viz., his soul, or spirit - fails to satisfy the requirements of a holistic definition of soma. Such a definition requires that soma refer directly to the whole person rather than indirectly through one of his parts.
The same deficiency appears if we say that soma refers to the whole man under the aspect of his physical body. If we mean that soma can actually comprise the whole man with the result that all that is man is soma - not just represented by or contained in or projected through - but is in fact soma, then we do indeed have a technical use of the term. We gain the impression, however, that in using the phrase 'under the aspect of the body' some writers (perhaps unconsciously) shy away from an absolute equation between soma and the totality of the human person.
Excerpted from Soma in Biblical Theology by Robert H. Gundry Copyright © 1988 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.