At the present moment, we are witnessing a seismic shift in Western anthropology from a view of the self as a stable, semidivine, spiritual entity that transcends the body, time, and change to the idea of the self as nothing more than a social construction and physical-chemical interactions.
The Platonist ontology, summarized in chapter 2, has played a dominant role in philosophical and theological treatments of human personhood. In this perspective, the higher self—indeed, the real self—is the spirit/soul or mind. Even when this is interpreted in Christian categories (e.g., as the image of God rather than an eternal and immortal soul), the locus of our human personhood—that which distinguishes us from the animals—is often restricted to the soul.
Elaborating his own version of Neoplatonism in his Enneads, Plotinus (AD 205–270) posits a hierarchy of three divine realms: the One (eternal, absolute, transcendental), the Nous (ideas, concepts), and the World Soul (including individual souls, incorporeal and immortal). Below the realm of the Soul is nature, including the terrestrial bodies in which some souls are imprisoned. Individual souls emanate from the World-Soul, turned toward the unchanging, rational One.
“Dividing” in this context is examining, judging, “discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” It is not a cutting between but a cutting through that is intended here.
If all that is real is spiritual for Platonism and idealism, the opposite form of monism is materialism.
With respect to human identity (anthropology), materialistic monism assumes that there is no such entity as a soul and therefore no continued existence after p 376 death.
Many liberal Protestant and Jewish thinkers have argued that the Old Testament is largely silent on the question of a soul and overwhelmingly presupposes that physical death is the end of one’s personal existence.
Recent scholarship has challenged this view, demonstrating the antiquity of Jewish belief in the soul’s survival of bodily death and the hope of resurrection. Furthermore, if Jewish belief in bodily resurrection is to be attributed to foreign influences, Greek thought is the p 377 most unlikely candidate. After all, in Greek philosophy the immortal soul longs for its release from the bodily prison-house at death, not its everlasting “incarceration.”
Distinction without Dualism
A biblical anthropology has nothing to lose—in fact, everything to gain—from the dissolution of ancient and modern mind-body dualism. Nowhere in the Bible is the soul identified with the mind.
Human beings are composed of spirit/mind, soul, and body (in descending rank).
Human beings are composed of soul (synonymous with spirit or mind) and body.
Human beings are physical organisms; the characteristics traditionally associated with the soul or mind are attributable to chemical and neurological processes and interactions.
Self as Servant
The origins of creation cannot properly be understood apart from their eschatological aim.
Rather, the meeting place between God and humanity is a covenant. This covenantal relationship is not something added to human nature but is essential to it.
By contrast, the Bible places human beings in a dramatic narrative that defines their existence as inherently covenantal—fully engaged with God, with each other, and with the nonhuman creation.
The image of God (imago dei) is not something in us that is semidivine but something between us and God that constitutes a covenantal relationship. To put it differently, it is not because of our soul (or intellect) that we are ranked higher than our fellow creatures, but because we have been created—in the wholeness of our psychosomatic identity—with a special commission, for a special relationship with God.
Also, there is no slight quarrel over “image” and “likeness” when interpreters seek a nonexistent difference between these two words, except that “likeness” has been added by way of explanation.
Now we see how Christ is the most perfect image of God; if we are conformed to it, we are so restored that with true piety, righteousness, purity, and intelligence we bear God’s image.
To be created in God’s image is to be called persons in communion. There was no moment when a human being was actually a solitary, autonomous, unrelated entity; self-consciousness always included consciousness of one’s relation to God, to each other, and to one’s place in the wider created environment.
In short, the significance of the imago Dei is the moral likeness of human beings to their Creator and the covenantal commission with which Adam was entrusted; namely, to enter God’s everlasting Sabbath with the whole creation in his train
To conclude, we come to know ourselves as human beings—that is, as God’s image-bearers—not only by looking within but chiefly by looking outside of ourselves to the divine Other who addresses us. It is only as we take our place in this theater of creation—the liturgy of God’s speaking and creaturely response—that we discover a selfhood and personhood that is neither autonomous nor illusory but doxological and real. Who am I? I am one who exists as a result of being spoken by God. Furthermore, I am one of God’s covenant children whom he delivered out of Egypt, sin, and death. I am one who has heard his command but not fulfilled it, one in whom faith has been born by the Spirit through the proclamation of the gospel. Because human beings are by nature created in covenant with God, self-identity itself depends on one’s relation to God. It is not because I think, feel, experience, p 406 express, observe, or will, but because in the totality of my existence I hear God’s command and promise that I recognize that I am, with my fellow image-bearers, a real self who stands in relation to God and the rest of creation.
No one can escape the reality of God in his or her experience, because there is no human existence that is possible or actual apart from the ineradicable covenant identity that belongs to us all, whether we flee the summons or whether we reply, “Here I am.”