If Peter Leithart’s latest writings are any indication, he’s working on an essay or a book on the meaning of embodiment.  Which would be fantastic.  The topic is going to be increasingly popular as more work like Professor Smith’s infiltrate the evangelical laity, and its certainly one of critical importance.

In an interesting analysis, Leithart points out that the Bible doesn’t actually talk about bodies and souls as much as it talks about the relationship between–hands and feet!  Writes Leithart:

The word “soul” is used in the NASB just under 300x (a few dozen more than the number of times that the NASB uses “body,” which of course is used for “bodies” other than the individual human body. The word “soul” is used about as much as the word “foot/feet,” about half the number of times that the word “eye(s)” is used, and a third of the times that the word “hand(s)” is used (which is well over 1000). ”Mind” is used a bit about 140x, but a number of those are English idioms; in the Hebrew Old Testament, “mind” sometimes translates a body part (sometimes “face,” as in Exodus 10:10). ”Heart” is the “soul-word” used most frequently (680 times), but of course the heart is a body part.

Should we be spending as much time discussing the “foot-hand” relation as we do the “soul-body” relation?

Leithart points out that frequency is an imperfect indicator for what’s important.  But it is telling.

But it’s also worth pointing out that if we use the frequency test, then “image of God” arguments are going to suffer badly.  The word ‘image’ shows up only 71 times in the NASB, and many of those are referring to idols.

John Webster makes this point in the Q&A in the last of the Kantzer lectures.  And it’s worth considering.  We should be nervous to make too much of categories that are relatively under-developed in Scripture, even if they show up in important places.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. I’d be interested to see his essay/article/book. I’m a NASB fan (been my main Bible since 1969), but I found that it does fudge toward a post-Reformation nebulous quasi-Calvinist anthropology rather than an “Eastern Orthodox” one when translating words like “nous”, “psyche”, and “sarx”. The relationship of “mind” to “flesh” or body etc. is defined by the Incarnation and Christ as the “image of God”, hence ISTM that number of references is subservient to the “one reference point” that really makes all the difference in the world. Its a bit of a wade, but I’d recommend Heirotheos Nafpaktos “The Person in the Orthodox Tradition” for a full explication of the relationship of body, soul and mind in the Christian East’s theology.


    1. S-P,

      I am an NASB fan too, but only the pre-1992 revision (heh!), as it kept the “Thees/Thous/Thy’s/Thine” in the Psalms and prayers. But as someone who stands within the protestant tradition, I’m sympathetic to its anthropology. That said, I’ll definitely take a look at that article, as it sounds really helpful. Thanks, as always.



  2. Since it has come up, maybe you can do a post on the best translations, and why. Let’s talk about The Message, ESV, AMP, NLT, CEV, etc.

    I’ll quickly make a couple points:
    1) I’ve been listening to the ESV audio bible for a couple months and I’m loving it! Ever since I started I’ve taken in SO MUCH more Bible than ever before. (David Cochran Heath narration – http://www.crossway.org/catalog/download.audio.bibles ) It’s worth remembering “faith comes through hearing.” I cross reference to my NASB that has all the study notes and maps etc.
    2) CEV is amazing for sharing with anyone not versed in the Bible. I love that it “reads like a book.” The Message i always great for a refreshing take on familiar passages like “The Lord’s Prayer;” I also love when he busts out the urban jive when talking to mockers, etc.
    3) The Message, NLT, and AMP often end up on my 5-columns view of the Bible Gateway http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%203&version=CEV;ESV;AMP;NLT;NASB
    4) Worth mentioning the pitfalls of such as the TNIV etc.

    Thanks & cheers,


  3. Danny,

    Interesting points. You’re right that I’ve never gone into depth about different translations. Perhaps I should.

    But I think I have beat up on the TNIV in the past, if I remember right. It’s somewhere buried in our archives (along with lots of other good stuff!). I’ll keep that idea in mind, though.

    Thanks, and send more ideas along! : )




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