Thursday, March 17, 2016

Animated Stardust: A Reflection on Paul and Christian Materialism
This little post is long overdue, and my apologies for that. I really should blog more often.

It is no secret that I subscribe to what is called Christian physicalism, also called monism or materialism. This means that I believe I do not possess an immaterial immortal soul; rather, I am a body comprised of purely—but not merely—physical components that comprise a person.

In New Testament scholarship, much has been written regarding how Paul and others utilize bodily imagery, and this is relevant to the current mind-body problem, and especially in light of modern discussions on eschatology. For instance, if one is a materialist like I am, then the doctrine of the intermediate state becomes unnecessary. Much more could be said and explored, and perhaps I will do this later. Its in a written “to research” document.

I preached some time ago about 1 Corinthians 15 and the nature of the resurrection. As someone who believes he does not possess immortality or a soul, the resurrection has become a foundational (can I say that in a post-modern world? Well, I will) basis for my Christian faith. As Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Pretty simple.

If Christ has not been raised, you will perish. The aorist middle/passive verb ἀπώλοντο refers to former Israelites who suffered annihilation in the desert (1 Cor. 10:10) and the rebellion of Korah (Jude 11). In the New Testament among personal active and divine agents, the root (ἀπόλλυμι) most commonly refers to the act of death, or being killed/murdered (Matt. 2:13), or being destroyed (Matt. 10:28).[1] For Paul, I suspect the term refers to the natural state of decay that results in the complete extinction of the human person.

While I am working on a further study of how Paul uses "death" language, I wanted to reflect now on 1 Cor. 15:44-45, as well as other parts of 1 Cor. 15. In describing the “natural” (ψυχικόν) and “spiritual” states of universal human—though I doubt he separated the two—Paul uses σῶμα ("body") here in both instances. Σῶμα most commonly refers to, well, the human person—usually the totality of the human being. It is used over 140 times in the New Testament. 

In contrasting “dishonor/weakness” and “glory/power,” Paul does not stray from the bodily nature of resurrected life.In fact, it is likely he had no other category to work with, and even while writing to a highly dualistic culture (Corinth), he seemed interested in using their language to convey his principle point:

σῶμα is the operative continuance of what God gave us, and what we be in the New Creation.

The “natural” body is appositionally defined as “dust/ earth” (χοϊκός), not of “spirit.” The very nature of embodied life is that we are “living souls/persons/lives.” As dust, we are passive, subjected to death and mortality and the inevitable cyclone of cosmic breakdown. All matter eventually breaks down, resulting in returning to “dust”—if that.

A happy thought.

If you came here for happy Christian theology, this is the part you are looking for.

Christ is described as a πνεῦμα ζωοποιοῦν—“life-giving spirit.” In a world ruled by Death and the destructive powers of human sin, Christ is proactive, giving “life” to our bodies. The intrinsic nature of human life is mortality and death. We may be able to get out of paying taxes, but death is something that cannot be cheated.

But if Christ is raised, then there is hope for our mortal bodies. Putting on immortality implies a continued state where we are changed, but not entirely undone. It is something added to us, not something to be found within us. The author of Ephesians describes us as “putting on” various pieces of armor (6:11), implying that these things are to be added to an existing constituent.

Once this happens, then this soulless, mortal, animated piece of cosmic stardust will then say, “Where, Death, is your victory?” Thus, the resurrection of the animated piece of stardust that comprises the human person is the consequence of the victory of God in Christ over the final evil power. 

Without this resurrection, I am animated stardust. Nothing more. Until then, I await the redemption/liberation of my body (c.f. Rom. 8:23: τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν τοῦ σώματος ἡμῶν).

Just something I’ve been chewing on for months.

In Christ,

[1] Glenn Peoples, The Meaning of Appolumi in the Synoptic Gospels,” 

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