So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10, ESV)
The Bible maintains a sharp distinction between the body and the soul. The soul is also referred to as the spirit or the heart of man. This distinction is only one aspect of the ontological divide between matter and spirit. The teaching pervades Scripture and is assumed throughout. Paul lists several facets of this and distinguishes between the external self and the internal self (4:16), the seen and the unseen (4:18), the transient and the eternal (4:18), the earthly tent or home and the heavenly building or house (5:1), the mortal and the immortal (5:4), and so on.
Man is not an essential unity but a dichotomy consisting of a corporeal part and an incorporeal part. Paul likens the body to a tent (5:1) – a man is not the tent, but he lives in a tent. Then he refers to the body as something that can be removed like a piece of clothing (5:4). A disembodied state is possible – he says that we are “naked” between the time we take off “this tent” and the time we put on “our heavenly dwelling.” Therefore, a man’s identity is associated with his soul and not his body. His corporeal or physical part can be altered and even removed without affecting his true self. Although a man operates in close relation to his body, and in God’s plan a disembodied state is only temporary, the body is a non-essential part of his identity and existence.
This results in a simple scheme for prioritization. The spiritual aspect of man is essential to him and receives the preeminence. Paul does not lose heart because “though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” This would make no sense if the body is essential or if man is a unity. But the apostle means that the spiritual and important aspect of man thrives even as the physical and less important part of him suffers damage and decay. The body is inferior to the soul. Then, the seen is inferior to the unseen (4:18), and the transient inferior to the eternal (4:18). The earthly is inferior to the heavenly (5:1-4), and the mortal is inferior to the immortal (5:4).
Some theologians make the strange claim that this distinction between the non-spiritual and the spiritual, and between the body and the soul, is a tenet of Greek philosophy. Rather, it is said, the Bible affirms an “organic” view of man, in which he is a unity, so that man is not a “ghost in a machine.” This is clearly false, and if the distinction is a Greek doctrine, then the scholars should be ashamed for being less biblical than the heathens. The Bible says that a man is like a person in a tent; in fact, considering the body’s design and construction, a machine is an apt analogy. And if we are uncomfortable with the word “ghost,” changing it to “spirit in a machine” perfects the expression.
In making their case, these theologians appeal to texts that refer to man as a unity. But these do not challenge the dichotomy view, since in language usage it often occurs that a part is put for the whole, or the whole for a part. When I say that Peter’s hand was in the cookie jar, I most likely mean that the whole Peter was present as well. And it would be ridiculous to say, “Here comes the police officer with his uniform, his belt, his gun, his shoes, his socks, his hat, and his fingernails.” No, I simply say, “Here comes the police officer.” Although I probably include his gun as I mention this, I maintain a clear distinction between the officer and his gun. He can pull it out and fire it, or lose it, or put it in a locker and walk away, and all the while he would remain the same person. Regardless of its importance, the gun is non-essential to the man or to his position – he would still be a man and a police officer without his gun.
Thus the fact that the Bible sometimes refers to man as a unity contributes little to the discussion. Rather, for these theologians to establish their case, they must demonstrate that the Bible never distinguishes between the body and the soul, and that in cases where such a distinction is considered, it always denies the dichotomy view. Moreover, they must explain away all the instances where the Bible explicitly distinguishes between the body and the soul whenever such a distinction is needed. In other words, they must renounce the Christian faith.
There is the concern that the biblical teaching becomes a license for neglect or even sinful indulgence. So, supposedly, a main motivation behind the silliness is to encourage holy living and engagement with the world. However, we should not achieve this by inventing a false doctrine to deceive believers. It is the true doctrine that leads to holiness, fruitful ministry, and proper attention to the things of this world. There is no need to dissolve the biblical distinctions between the body and the soul, the non-spiritual and the spiritual, and the earthly and the heavenly.
Far from permitting neglect or detachment, the biblical distinctions provide the foundation for a faithful and fearless ministry. Although our bodies may wither away due to hard work, persecution, and harsh environments, in this life of gospel labor our spirits are renewed day by day. Even if we get weaker on the outside, we grow stronger on the inside. Paul writes, “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” How do we look to things that are not seen? Not with the eyes of flesh, but with the eyes of faith, the eyes of our intelligence.
We distinguish between the transient and the eternal, but does this mean that we neglect the former for the latter? No, it means that we can afford to suffer in this transient world, because “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” The body is like a tent or a piece of clothing. Of course we do not want to be naked, or disembodied, but even death is not that bad, since “if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” and “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” It is because of this that “we are always of good courage.”
We are able to engage this world in a faithful and persistent manner precisely because we have understood the biblical distinctions between the body and the soul, the non-spiritual and the spiritual, and the transient and the eternal. Again, there are theologians who want to demolish even a heaven-mindedness so that Christians would direct their attention to this world. This false doctrine is unnecessary. To produce holiness and engagement by stressing our earthly existence and by calling our future hope heaven misplaced is, ironically, to appeal to sinful and self-centered instincts.
The biblical way of thinking is preferred: “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” We do not have to make this world our home in order to invest in it – the apostle appeals to our Christian instinct to please God “whether we are home or away.” Then, the doctrine of judgment is a sufficient basis to promote holiness and engagement in the body, even though the essence of man is the soul.