I’m generally sympathetic to Robert Gundry’s helpful explication of the role of the body in Biblical theology.  His careful exegetical work foreshadowed John Cooper’s conclusions in Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting:  the anthropology of Scripture points toward something like a substance-dualism, even if it’s not the strong dualism of Plato.

But along the way, Gundry offers this odd argument in defense of dualism:

What in the constitution of man requires God to be there with man? But in that man exists as a unity of two substances, spirit and body, he requires the cohesive force of God for true and full being. Kasemann has seen that there is no way to bind a substantial body and a substantial soul together except by mythological speculation.  For mythological speculation, we might prefer God. But the point is the same. A dichotomous distinction within man requires a cohesive force from the outside. And pace Kasemann, that is good, for it fuses anthropology and theology. Insofar as theology and anthropology dovetail in this manner, then, our view of man receives confirmation.

But within the framework of Christian theology, the continuing existence of any creature requires the subterranean affirmation by God of their being.  The internal unity of the angelic form could be undone at any moment, as its being is as contingent as the being of humans.  Positing God as the only explanation for a particular feature of human existence is no more interesting or illuminating than positing God as the only explanation for existence at all.

What’s more, Gundry’s position actually cuts against the efforts to identify ways in which the soul and body might interact, a problematic feature of all such “God of the gaps” arguments.  On such an account, the difficulty of explanation of the relationship turns (magically!) from a virtue into a vice.

In his defense, Gundry is affirming Ernst Kasemann’s argument, and Kasemann is specifically concerned with undoing Rudolph Bultmann’s overly anthropological interpretation of Paul, a reading that problematically minimized God’s involvement with humans.  But solving one error with another is never a good strategy, as Kasemann does here.

I think Gundry’s explication of the role and meaning of the body in Scripture is generally correct, but this argument is hardly his finest moment.

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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.

0 Comments

  1. Reading this reminds me of the concept of “soul sleep,” that the body and soul are basically inseparable, that at death we transition into a state of “sleep,” and that at the resurrection / judgment of all, we awaken with restored / glorified bodies, souls intact and begin our experience of Revelation.

    DJ|AMDG

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  2. Gundy’s explanation is incomplete in that it does not account for the propensity of man, and in that he is unable or unwilling to posit God as the definitive primordial source.

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  3. DW,

    Yup, it’s definitely headed in that direction, though I think Gundry allows for an interim period where the soul is active without the body (as well he should!).

    Jim,

    Have you read it? I’m only curious because it seems like that’s a tough conclusion to draw from what I’ve quoted above. At least, I don’t see that conclusion. I don’t think he has any problem positing God as the definitive primordial source. If anything, my contention above is that he makes God TOO intimate with the structure of creation.

    Matt

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  4. I confess I haven’t read the referenced works. How does it read vis a vis the concepts of St. Maximos the Confessor that man is the microcosm and “bridge” of the entire created order, both material and spiritual, and that the entire creation was to be united and summed up in the human being as prophet, priest and king of the created order (which Christ ultimately fulfilled in His incarnation)?

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  5. Matt, I am going to re-visit Gundry’s work. Perhaps, my observation has more to do with the loose definition he seems willing to apply to God, and his liberal use of Redaction Criticism in much of his work. Does he not feel also that a mythological concept of God is theology enough to warrant a soul body connection-which, if true, is an insufficient posit as the definitive primordial source, in my opinion. I am not saying that he personally believes the so-called myth; I am, however, questioning the sufficiency of such a position. To me, theology is a truth given, and we reason or extrapolate from there. What we discover should therefore express a qualitative likeness of the source’s (i.e., God’s) original intention; which was to make man in His own image and likeness. A task, I am afraid, a vague mythology can never obtain. Gundry is, I am sure, a good honest man and an excellent scholar; however, I personally think Norman Geisler was justified in pushing for more clarity on Gundry’s hermeneutical approach to Scripture in general. Would I have censure Gundry as a member of the Evangelical Theological Society (which I am not)? I am not sure. However, it does not appear to me that he meets the doctrinal standards for membership in the organization. Personally, I think under a pretty broad theological tent, and am tolerant of others opinions to the extent that I have been called a liberal—that’s a nasty word, isn’t it? So, perhaps, my criticism is not so much in what Gundry said, but in the nuances of what he said. (If that makes sense.)

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  6. S-P, I think you hit the nail on the head with your reference to St. Maximos the Confessor. We can not separate the Trinity (thus God) from the purpose of God’s intention in creation, including man.

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  7. S-P,

    I’m going to have to think more about the relationship between Gundry/Maximos. Part of the difficulty is that they are operating in VERY different conversations. Gundry’s main goal is to take down the Bultmannian extension of ‘soma’ beyond the corporaeal body. So it’s REALLY trying to be just a piece of exegetical work (and yah, there are difficulties doing just exegesis, but Gundry’s take on Paul is pretty compelling, I think).

    Jim,

    There’s almost nothing in “Soma” that hinges upon his redaction criticism. He did get in hot water with ETS, but my understanding is that it was primarily over his take on Matthew. I haven’t read all that literature, though, so I don’t have much of an opinion on it.

    But count me as nervous about suggesting that the Trinity has to be linked to creation and man in any way. It seems it’s important that we keep distinct his being and his works….

    Matt

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  8. Agreed. I am only suggesting that the use of the word creation in the Biblical sense (i.e., ex nihilo)precludes that. Otherwise, we may venture too far into a creepy monism.

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  9. Matt: One further comment: The word “image” suggest to me a pattern. The “spirit” that gave “imago dei” structure to man came from God (a Trinity) and returns to Him following death is, I believe, the sustaining principle for the “soulish” nature of man; and thereby influences both the will and nature of man through works of grace. To me the Trinity is absolutely essential in understanding both the mind of God and man. One of Buddha’s disciples once asked, “Oh, Enlightened One, when was there no long and short of it?” I don’t remember the answer, but I thought it was a pretty good question (when I read it). In other words, thought process is only possible when there are comparison to make, and reflect upon.

    To me, this suggest the necessity of a Divine dialogue within the essence of Divinity (with a big ‘D’). Of course, to hold such a position, I realize, one must embrace a descending Christology of a Christ from whom and through whom all things were created and are sustained. The advantage (if I could use the word) that man has over the rest of creation is that he was created in the image of God, and given dominion. (And, no, this is not monism; it is however, I believe, a theological necessity, if one wishes to properly understand the nature of creation, and thus man.)

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  10. Matt, I understand you concern about “linking” the essence of the Trinity to creation. This is a major issue regarding the notions of “created grace” in the West and the “uncreated energies” in the East. The essence of the distinction is “how can creation/man participate fully in the life of God and yet maintain the absolute distinction between Creator and the created?” This issue was not lost on the early Fathers and Maximos is one of the early expositors of the distinction that was brought to full bloom by Palamas in his dialogues with Barlaam.

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  11. Game mechanics: not just for WoW and StackOverflow anymore. Read this — it is worth your time.

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  12. I’m really getting upset that people are learning about game mechanics. It was my little secret for so long. :(

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  13. Does anyone know of a similar method to learn vim? It would be a lot easier, faster and more fun if there was some kind of game which would teach you all the keys and combinations.

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  14. This is a seriously interesting innovation.

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  15. This is wonderfully on point for me. The main reason I belong to HN is because I want to create an educational game. Glad to see it here and hope to see other similar stuff in the future.

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  16. No, but does anybody want to make a vim plugin which does this? I’d help, don’t know much about Vim plugins though!

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  17. Play nethack.

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  18. Funny, the main reason I read HN is to procrastinate and avoid doing other things. ;)

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  19. I think we’re going to start seeing alot more ideas from gaming start to creep into applications. I’ve definitely been noticing a trend of this even recently here on HN. It’s going to be interesting to see how these two worlds collide (and what startups form from the debris).

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  20. Don’t worry most people will ignore it in lieu of their preconceived notions of what should work.

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  21. Relatedly: Some of us have egos. The rest of us have A/B testing. It is a lot like signing up for a lifetime subscription to Humble Pie Magazine, but it certainly works.

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  22. I think you’r referring to StackOverflow’s points and badges; is there a deeper dynamic that you’d like to explain?

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  23. I really want to make one myself. My idea is to have the terminal screen as a vim-editable 2-D ASCII environment, which you manipulate with vim commands.The goal can be anything. Say a plane or something going straight through a cave and you have to use vim commands to move the cursor to and clear ASCII obstacles before the plane hits them (and you can’t use ‘dd’, just to make it harder).

    Or a game where you have to fill in blank spaces randomly strewn around for some purpose, and also make it time-based. Or any other kind of game you can think of; I think it has a lot of potential for fun + vim-training.

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  24. I really want to make one myself. My idea is to have the terminal screen as a 2-D ASCII environment, which you manipulate with vim commands.The goal can be anything. Say a plane or something going straight through a cave and you have to use vim commands to clear ASCII obstacles before the plane hits them (and you can’t use ‘dd’, just to make it harder).

    Or a game where you have to fill in blank spaces randomly strewn around for some purpose, also make it time-based. Or any other kind of game you can think of, I think it has lots of potential for fun + vim-training.

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  25. If only Excel had some kind of Flight Simulator…

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  26. I’m just referring to points and badges as an incentive mechanism for directing user interaction of a site in ways which provide business value.

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  27. Exploring the linked site a little deeper, there’s this gem on making applications more game-like: http://lostgarden.com/Mixing_Games_and_Applications.pdfFrom what the author explains in the presentation, vim violates the tried-and-true video game mechanics of starting the user with only the most basic functionality. To teach vim using the author’s method, one could start by removing all but the most basic commands. Then, these missing commands could be introduced to the user one at a time, in a controlled environment where there is a clear task (eg. jump the cursor to a particular point in the text) that can be measured as success or failure.

    In the linked presentation, the author draws a comparison to the game Metroid. In the game, the player falls into a deep pit and has to find a way to climb out before being able to continue on. Failure to perform the new skill (accurately timing the character’s wall-jumping) is immediately clear because the player will fall back down into the pit. When the user finally times it correctly, he’s free from the pit and the brain rewards him with a sense of accomplishment.

    Back to vim, if you wanted to create such an environment for learning a new command to move the cursor around, you wouldn’t want the user to fall back on basic navigation with h, j, k, and l. You could disable these keys temporarily, or leave them but only reward the user if they accomplish the goal using the fewest key-presses possible.

    Once they "win" this "level" you’ve designed, those new navigation keys should be considered part of their arsenal of skills for solving future problems. Each skill mastery could be further rewarded by filling in parts of a cheat-sheet (like this one: http://www.viemu.com/vi-vim-cheat-sheet.gif). This can be seen in the section where the author talks about Link to the Past and the picture of the player’s item inventory. The vim player’s goal could be to "unlock" and master these keyboard skills and ultimately fill in the complete chart.

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  28. I don’t know if I’d call it a game, but there is vimtutor, which is a document that tells you how to edit it:http://www2.geog.ucl.ac.uk/~mdisney/teaching/unix/vimtutor

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  29. Having read the comments I found it interesting that one of the features is to show you which of the features of Office other people actually use. I’ve had the same experience with blog posts or hacker news submissions about Vim or Unix tools in general. Simply being informed of their existence is a real benefit, otherwise they’d just sit there in my machine unused. (The hefty guidebook Vi IMproved by Steve Oualline was good too)

    This comment was originally posted on Hacker News

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  30. Matt, I appreciate your response to my comments. Yes, I must admit that at times I misread Robert Gundry, perhaps with a jaded view considering his hermeneutical methodology. He is certainly a very capable person—much more than I am, I am sure. The meaning of words comes from a complicated process, that’s for sure. I personally, however—using Ludwig Wittgenstein’s beetle in the box analogy— am not sure I see Gundry’s beetle as clearly as I would like. At times, I get the feeling that Gundry gets carried away with the description to the extent that what is being said becomes the essence of the object of consideration, rather than the other way around.

    Once we remove the intuitive from our process of understanding, and revert to a descriptive process our journey becomes more difficult, that’s for sure. Intuition, to be expressed, however, must be described. And, therein, lies the problem. Perhaps, it is the circuitous route that Gundry takes that bores me. Sorry, but that is the best I can come up with at this moment.

    Intuitively, I know that I think. To extrapolate beyond that, I rely on experience to process that intuition. To express my discoveries I rely on language, grounded in the intuitive knowledge of cause and effect. Paul, and other Biblical authors are no different. For me, Paul and the other Biblical authors, particularly those within the context of the New Testament, wrote from an intuitive impulse to express their experience within the context of a defined religious community, or at most to those aspiring to become part of that community or to those whom they wished to evangelize and disciple.

    Now, it is at this point that Gundry loses me. Paul, for instance, gave definition to the Agnostos Theos at Athens to express an intuitive encounter based on the intuitive knowledge of experience, rather than letting the Athenians provide the meaning of God. Perhaps, I am selfish, or uncompromisingly ignorant, but for me, only God can give definition to God or the essence of His creation.

    Again, I must say that the word contains the Word, the essence of all that is, and it is to that to whom we address our inquires, rather than partially define these essences through the process of a depraved language—heathen literature and so-forth. So, in my opinion, Gundry does a poor job in following God’s thoughts after Him.

    Now, I realize that this leave a broad target to shoot at; however, I learned a long time ago that I learn very little unless I am willing to become vulnerable. And, admittedly, I may be reading too much into Gundry’s approach; however, I have a feeling that I will enjoy the fire of the responses, if there are any.

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