Editor’s note:  Below is the definitive take-down of the idea that C.S. Lewis said that “You do not have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body.”   In recent years, the attribution has taken on a life of it’s own and it is our hope to clear Lewis’s name of it.  

I am grateful to Hannah Peckham for doing such an excellent job writing this.  You should follow her tumblr, because it’s one of the best, and on Twitter too.  

In the nearly fifty years since C.S. Lewis’ death, his writing has profoundly influenced the way many Christians understand their faith. In an odd twist, however, one of his most famous quotations is not even his.

The statement “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body” makes the rounds, in a seemingly cyclical pattern, on the internet and in print. John Piper tweeted it last year; Ravi Zacharias included the quotation in at least one of his books. It can also be found in several New Age handbooks, a guide for psychics, and a devotional for fathers. This pithy summation of the distinction between body and soul is almost exclusively attributed to Lewis, although a few recent authors baldly claim it as their own.

The quotation cannot be found in Lewis’ writing. While several sources ascribe it to Mere Christianity, more responsible writers concede that the primary source is unknown. Given the central themes of Lewis’ fiction and non-fiction, we can safely say that he would never intend to convey the belief that our bodies are simply temporary shells. Readers and fans know that the worlds he created are deeply physical. The trees are alive; the animals speak; a roaring lion appears most clearly to a small child.  And the gods will not meet us until we have faces.

Many who have suspected the Lewis reference to be apocryphal credit the quotation to A Canticle For Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller’s 1959 science fiction novel, in which one of the characters asserts, “You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.”

The mystery does not end there, however. If we keep going back through the sources, it becomes clear that not only was the sentiment common before Miller’s Canticle made it to print, but the exact phrasing can be found in multiple independent sources. We can find the “you are a soul; you have a body” quotation in a 1929 novel, a short anecdote in a 1905 periodical, and an 1895 survey of the peerage in the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as a number of other sources. A 1901 YMCA training manual included the same phrasing.

This post is not simply meant to be a litany of old periodicals and half-forgotten figures. When Christians see the diverse assortment of characters who believed that they were their souls, they can be more prepared to respond when people today freely cite “Lewis” without thinking through the implications for their faith and their actions. Although this hardly needs emphasizing, the difference between the nearly identical quotations comes in the way they are used in context, whether as part of a fictional argument in a novel or in a chapter on the soul. Just as the recent incarnation of the statement is used to encourage both psychics and evangelical dads, not to mention Calvinist pastors and teenage bloggers, the soul-body dichotomy at the turn of the century served a number of different ends.

A closer look at these older sources shows that many of the authors thought that concentrating on the soul would encourage proper behavior. In one instance, The British Friend, one of the two main British Quaker periodicals at the end of the 19th century, published a piece in 1892 on excessive mourning at funerals. The author believed that overly strong mourning kept people from remembering their hope in heaven. It is here, finally, where we find the quote attributed to George MacDonald.

“Never tell a child,” said George Macdonald, ‘you have a soul. Teach him, you are a soul; you have a body.’ As we learn to think of things always in this order, that the body is but the temporary clothing of the soul, our views of death and the unbefittingness of customary mourning will approximate to those of Friends of earlier generations.”

This attribution to George MacDonald finally, perhaps, begins to unveil how C.S. Lewis came to be associated with the statement, given Lewis’ reverence for the Scottish minister.

It is fair to question the notion that our bodies are temporary; in fact, the popularity among Christians of the ‘you are a soul, but you have a body’ sentiment, stripped of any nuance or context, indicates that a robust defense of the theology of the body is needed.

But nothing is more universal than death, and it is understandable that this quotation was, and is, widespread because people want to be assured of their future. Christians need to be mindful, however, that they are embodied creatures with the promise of an embodied resurrection. Jesus incarnated in a body and resurrected with a body, so Christians should be careful about minimizing their own.

Hannah is a recent graduate of Duke University, where she majored in history and religion. She is an avid Tumblr user and tweets regularly. Lately, she has also been blogging about the Jesus Movement.


Everything Hannah said, plus a bit more.

It’s easy these days to read the quote, double-up our fists, and shout ‘gnosticism’ in a fit of anxious rage.   The reaction understandable and one that I have at many times shared.

However, I want to double-underline Hannah’s nuance above: Not all dualisms are intrinsically bad, and we should be open to the possibility that Scripture affirms some of its own.  Paul can speak, for instance, comfortably about a gap between the “outer self” and the “inner self,” between the seen and the unseen, the transient and the eternal.  Such language has historically been attached to the conception of the “soul,” and in that sense comes close to MacDonald’s line above.

Which is simply to say, we should be careful not to simply be reactionary against uncareful statements like the above.  Theology is ever in danger of reductionism, and it’s ever possible that our own contemporary reaction against the concept of the soul is too deflationary an account of human persons.

That said, out of context–which is how the legions of people who pass it around Facebook and Twitter generally see it–the quote really does express a stunted vision of the human person in light of the resurrection.  My own intuition is to say something along the lines of, “You are a body.  But you’re a soul too.  And your human flourishing is contingent upon being a soul-bodied thing.”

At any rate, if you’re a writer, pastor, blogger, or anyone who is looking to for a good C.S. Lewis quote to invest your work with a little more authority…you’ll now have to turn elsewhere.  You’re welcome, internet.

–Matthew Lee Anderson, Lead Writer at Mere-O and author of Earthen Vessels:  Why our Bodies Matter to our Faith

Update:  Mere-O reader Eric Eekhoff put the following in the comments as well.

A brief Google Books search came up with the book Plain Words to Children by William Walsham How. It dates to at least 1876.

“What a wonderful thing the soul is, children! You cannot see it: you cannot hear it: you cannot touch it. Yet you know it is there. You do not want any proof that you have a soul. You are as sure of that as that you have a body. It tells you itself.

Now I think I am wrong, after all, in saying that you have a soul. Ought I not to say, you are a soul? Is not the soul really yourself? In truth, my children, it is the soul that has a body, not the body that has a soul; for the soul is greater surely than the body, and will last when the body is laid aside in death.”

Hannah mentions a number of other sources above, and this is doubtlessly one of them.  While not quite as succinct as the MacDonald reference, it certainly expresses something similar.  And it’s possible that the MacDonald reference is actually an interpretation of the below.

At any rate, if you find other old parallels through Google Books or elsewhere, please let us know in the comments below.

Update two:  One more reason to think that Lewis probably never said the above.  In God in the Dock, he says:  “And as image an apprehension are in organic unity, so, for a Christian, are human body and human soul.”  “Organic unity” seems quite a bit stronger than suggesting that the soul simply “has” a body, which I take as one more small piece of evidence that the above quote runs against the grain of his thought, at least without further clarification and explanation.

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  • Sarah

    How was it determined that the quote appears in none of Lewis’ works? I was afraid I had read it in one of his books, though I never could remember for sure after I met it floating around the internet.

    • I searched through the full text of every Lewis book I could find on the internet, reread parts of the ones I owned, and tried to figure out if anyone (of the thousands who post it) had ever cited a source for it. Some people did say it was from Mere Christianity, but it’s not in there.

      It’s reasonable to think that Lewis did come across the quotation in his lifetime. He apparently liked A Canticle for Leibowitz, for example, and he could have read it in a number of earlier sources. I couldn’t find him quoting it anywhere, though. More importantly, the quote does not originate from him, which is what I had wanted to find out.

      • Yes, and FWIW, I’ve been engaged in the same project for a while as well and haven’t been able to find anything either.

        But I will say that anyone who does find the quote in Lewis’s writings will be welcome to publish their findings here at Mere-O. We’d be happy to host that as well.



        • R.Madatian

          R. Madatian. 1/9/13.

          Why don’t you all give in to the simple truth of God’s word and let him decide for you in the account of the Creation when HE said HE BECAME A SOUL, NOT GAVE HIM A SOUL!! The soul is you! Gen.2:7!

          • NW Clerk

            You are right, let’s allow Scripture decided. Here’s another one: “And do not fear those who kill the BODY but cannot kill the SOUL. Rather fear him who can destroy both SOUL and BODY in hell” (Matt 10:28).

            Why fear ‘him who can kill soul and body’ but not ‘those who can kill the body’? This verse only makes sense if I am a soul but have a body. If I am identical with the body+soul compound, I no longer am if ever it’s dissolved, however brief that dissolution might be.

          • wtanksleyjr

            I’m a dualist, but: Your logic does err :).

            Matt 10:28 makes sense if I am a body but have a soul, or am a spirit but have both, or… What this verse is affirming is that man cannot force an utter ending of the soul, but God can.

            Your point about dissolution makes philosophical sense, but if it were true it would also be true about my body — once it’s completely dissolved it would no longer be mine. But this is not true; 1Cor15 is clear that the body I’m to be raised with will be the body that’s buried, as will the body Paul’s raised with. I think the correct way to understand the philosophy here is simply to say that God has the power to overcome dissolution and preserve identity.

            And I actually think this was Christ’s point when he rebutted the Saducees: they believed God is all-powerful, but had philosophical precommitments that made them say that death is final. Jesus refuted them not for wrong philosophy, but for an inadequate view of the power of God. Even if they were right that men didn’t have a soul AT ALL (which you and I agree is wrong) God could still raise them.

      • rey

        “Some people did say it was from Mere Christianity, but it’s not in there.”

        I remember it being in there. Probably from a different edition than the one you’re using. Are you using a British or American edition? First edition? Second edition?

  • Eric E

    A brief Google Books search came up with the book Plain words to children by William Walsham How. It dates to at least 1876.

    “What a wonderful thing the soul is, children! You cannot see it: you cannot hear it: you cannot touch it. Yet you know it is there. You do not want any proof that you have a soul. You are as sure of that as that you have a body. It tells you itself.

    Now I think I am wrong, after all, in saying that you have a soul. Ought I not to say, you are a soul? Is not the soul really yourself? In truth, my children, it is the soul that has a body, not the body that has a soul; for the soul is greater surely than the body, and will last when the body is laid aside in death.”

    • Good find, Eric. I updated the post with it. It’s not quite as succinct as the MacDonald line, and given the intellectual proximity between MacDonald and Lewis I’m inclined to think that the MacDonald one is closer to the source of the misattribution to Lewis. But it’s an interesting pursuit, regardless.


  • Jeff Therrien

    That is not a direct quote from Lewis, but rather a paraphrase. Lewis does say something like it though. Here’s my paraphrase of the whole thing:

    “Don’t go on telling a child that he has a soul. For then the child will think that it isthe sort of thing he can lose, like a pair of shoes. Instead, tell him that is a soul and has a body- which one day will be shed like cut hair or fingernails.”

    Unfortunately I’m not sure what book it’s from. I don’t think it’s from Mere Christianity. I looked through the Abolition of Man and couldn’t find it there either. It’s not from his fiction as far as I know. It’s probably in an essay. I could look through the essays in the books Weight of Glory and God in the Dock…

    • Jeff,

      If you can find that, you will win the internet. It’s not from Weight of Glory–I know that book pretty well (having taught the whole thing two years in a row), so save your time looking there.

      I would be surprised if it’s God in the Dock. I’ve read it, and I can’t remember it there.

      But if you dig it up, I’ll send you a signed copy of Earthen Vessels.


    • I’ve been wondering if it might have been in one of his WWII radio addresses that didn’t make it into Mere Christianity. I searched through God in the Dock and couldn’t find it, but maybe your paraphrase will lead to more results.

      Another thought I had after I gave this to Matt was that maybe C.S. Lewis wrote a review of A Canticle for Leibowitz or a letter about it, and perhaps that’s how the modern incarnation of this quote got started.

      • Jeff Therrien

        Thanks Matt! I would love to win the internet (and your book)!

        I don’t think it’s in one of the radio addresses, because I haven’t listened to those.

        I’ve had no luck finding the source, but will do some more searching tonight. I remember a mention about “the shedding of the body like the cutting of hair or fingernails” quite distinctly though, as part of that same passage, which may perhaps ring a bell for someone else.

        But I may be wrong and that could be from a different author altogether who was quoting from MacDonald and/or Lewis and adding his own twist on the thing, thus associating the quote to Lewis in my thinking.

  • Excellent! When I first saw the image for this post on facebook, I literally could not believe that Mere Orthodoxy had posted that (I could only see the quote itself, not the disclaimer at the bottom).

    I wrote a post some time ago on the problems this quote raises , the most notable of which is that this would do to the doctrine of the Incarnation. (If the body is not part of the person, does it really mean anything that God became flesh and actually died in the flesh?)

  • Justin Hanvey

    I had a thought that maybe the quote could be in A Severe Mercy, which includes several letters from Lewis to Vanauken, but I’d have to re-read the book to see.

    • Justin,

      I think buried in one of his letters somewhere is probably the best option (though I think those are all digitally scanned, now). But I don’t think it’s in SM. I’ve read the book several times and I don’t remember coming across it there.


  • This is probably better discussed elsewhere, but the post got me thinking. I find myself seeing a lot of “dualism” in the world (soul/body, digital/analog, macrocosm/microcosm, etc.).

    Yet as a Christian I recognize the trinitarian nature of God. Do you think that this trinitarian nature is reflected in the world at all? If so, where do we find it? Otherwise, is it worth pondering these two “modes” that we’re faced with and how they might interact together?

    • La Donna

      The trinitarian is in all the duos and you said it yourself. The third aspect is made present in the interactions between the two parts of the duo.

  • Not to be a stickler– well, OK, you got me, precisely to be a stickler– but is there a primary source for the quote directly from George MacDonald’s writing? Otherwise, it seems to me it’s a bit dangerous to credit it to him just on the strength of one old attribution; after all, that’s the whole problem with it being attributed to CSL.

    The closest I could find (again on Google Books) was this interchange between two characters in MacDonald’s 1893 novel Thomas Wingfold, Curate (the first speaker is an atheist who’s just been denying immortality):

    “Helen, I love you with my whole soul!”
    “Oh! you have a soul then, George? I thought you hadn’t!”

    Of course, as Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as saying, “The thing about quotes on the internet is that you cannot confirm their validity.”

    • Eric, sticklers rule.

      That said, I agree in order for it to be conclusive we’d have to find independent verification within his books. I think at least the written testimony, though, is more than we’ve ever had from the Lewis attribution.

      Now to start reading all of MacDonald to find it there. : )


      • Kristen

        Perhaps one shortcut would be to find that G MacDonald anthology which is collected in some connection or other with CSL, or published to look like it. I can’t recall exactly, but do you know what I mean? I have it at home, but home is across the ocean right now. If it WERE in such an anthology, a Lewis-inspired/marketed anthology, that would connect some dots.

        As for the theology of the quote, Lewis was enough of a Platonist that he probably comes close, at times, to articulating this idea, but I think he would have resisted at least a little, given his awareness of Christian union of body-soul.

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  • solomani

    Nice read. I am a big CS Lewis fan but I have never heard this quote. Though, raised as a Catholic, the sentiment was normal to me until “switching sides” to become a protestant all those years ago.

    • PJ

      This is a rather strange remark, given the incarnational, iconic, and sacramental nature of Catholicism and the spiritual, iconoclastic, and symbolic nature of Protestantism.

      I have given this comment some thought on my own blog:


      Matthew, as a long time reader, I have given Mere O the honor of being the first site to which I link!

      God bless.

      PS: I intend to be irenic and sympathetic to Reformed notions… Obviously I’m not off to a great start! ;-) But really, as an “evangelical Catholic,” after the likes of Erasmus, I am hoping to find some common ground.

  • Ian Reid

    This is not Lewis but Augustine is quoted as writing: “Seek not abroad, turn back into thyself. For in the inner man dwells the truth”

    I’ve searched for it to find the context but can’t find it anywhere. Is this another often but wrongly ascribed quote?

    • Ian,

      I’m no Augustine expert, but I will say this much: that one *sounds* like Augustine, particularly in Confessions. Part of the problem with Augustine, though, is that you have the translation problems. That particular one sounds rather archaic, which could make tracing it to the original more of a chore.


  • I’m concerned for the sake of MereO that the effort might be a technical overreach. Best case scenario is that this post corrects a misattribution and gets recognized by the google bots for doing so. I would think it would be embarrassing if indeed it did show up in Mere Christianity or elsewhere in some edition. It would be interesting though in such a case to find out why it is not in all the editions. Even so, even if it can’t be attributed to him in origin in his writings, there is no way to prove that he didn’t say it, in the legal sense of proof. Given the other citations and attributions to MacDonald, it seems even more likely to me that he probably said it and that he still believes it. The research provided here seems to place it in the vernacular. But all that discussion isn’t terribly interesting unless you are a google bot. What is interesting is the theology behind the quote. That’s the real battle ground. I’m sympathetic to the concern that usage of this quote enables a gnostic view of the body, but I don’t think that’s a necessary reading. I’m supportive of the quote because it strikes back at materialism, which I take to be the greater threat of our day. I don’t think the quote implies or imports an impoverished theology of the body, and I would think that it is completely compatible with what I take to be Lewis’s theology of the body (robustly physical) as described in the Last Battle as the characters ride “further up and further in” I think Lewis might say something like, “the body is to the soul what the shadow is to the body.” I also think that the reference that Matt quotes about the unity of body and soul is still completely compatible with the quote he rejects. It would be lunacy to suggest the body does not die, and we assume there is a continuity of the person beyond physical death. We confess a resurrection of the body, so where do we turn for vision of the hereinafter, and is that incompatible with the quote in question?

    • Abraham,

      I’m not worried about being embarrassed. At all. If someone finds it, we’ll correct the record. That’s how research goes: we’ve made the claim and will be happy to correct it if necessary.

      “Even so, even if it can’t be attributed to him in origin in his writings, there is no way to prove that he didn’t say it, in the legal sense of proof.”

      Of course, there’s no reason to believe that he did. Lewis demonstrated clear departures from MacDonald on a number of issues, particularly MacDonald’s universalism. So the fact that he was an influence is neither here nor there to me in terms of speculating about whether Lewis would have said it.

      And until someone can give me some positive evidence that he did, I think we should be people of integrity and not attribute quotes to him. Doing so invests those quotes with his authority and may in fact misrepresent his own views.



    • ET

      It is true that C.S. Lewis didn’t say it. However, had he studied the scriptures more diligently he might have, as it is clearly understood from such study. The Bible makes it abundantly repeatedly clear that man is not a soul, but that he has a soul, a mortal one.

  • jigawatt

    I used to have a copy of “The Case for Christianity” that included a paragraph that was not in my copy of “Mere Christianity”, namely a presuppositionalish quote about not using thought to disbelieve in God. The funny thing was that the books were by the same publisher (Simon & Schuster) and were published around the same time. I never figured out why they included the quote in TCFC and removed it in MC.

    I gave away my old copy of TCFC, but I wish I still had one to see if the soul/body quote was in there as well.

  • Jenny

    I’m in the process of reading “The Problem of Pain” and I’m about halfway through, expecting to finish it in a week. I haven’t read that quote in so many words but he certainly suggests that thinking when he talks about the fall of man. He describes it as if the human soul and body were once one, then man fell and the soul “became a mere lodger in its own house.” If you boiled that down, you would have something similar to the quote in question.

    I doubt if this is the book the quote is from, but if I come across it, I’ll be sure to come back.

    • Jenny,

      That’s a great find, though it is instructive that the division (rather than simply a distinction) between body and soul is one that happens because of sin, not one that is intrinsic to humanity. I think Lewis is standing in a long tradition of folks who affirm something similar there, and I would affirm something like that myself.



      • NW Clerk

        I would love to hear your reply to my previous post concerning the supposed heterodoxy of the (perhaps) pseudo-Lewis quote. Also, I thought I would provide a quote from one of the top substance dualists now writing on the topic, the much admired JP Moreland. From his book (coauthored with Scott Rae in 2000) ‘Body & Soul’:

        “We will argue for a form of Thomistic substance dualism over against Cartesian substance dualism [199]…. [O]ur version of Thomistic substance dualism is not a dualism of two separable substances. There is only one substance, though we do NOT identify it with the body-soul composite. In our view, the one substance is the soul, and the body is an ensouled biological and physical structure that depends on the soul for its existence [201]…. For the Christian theist who accepts the Thomistic substances view, the human person is identical to its soul, and the soul comes into existence at the point of conception… [205].”

        And in Moreland’s chapter in ‘Body & Soul’ on personal identity:

        “[M]ost though not all advocates of the absolutist view [of personal identity, i.e., that personal identity is not a matter of degree but if present is absolute] hold that substance dualism is the best way to understand the I, or the ego, that accounts for personal identity. You are essentially your soul–same soul, same person; different soul, different person. And it is because your soul exists, owns your mental life, diffuses your body and endures through change that personal identity has a foundation. Personal identity is grounded in the soul for many advocates of the absolutist view [180].”

        These sentiments of Morelands are no different than Lewis’ in the ‘Letters to Malcolm’ quote I provided earlier. They are the default position for substance dualists and rightly so!

        An exception that proves the (‘rightly so’) rule is David S. Oderberg in ‘Hylemorphic Dualism’, in E.F. Paul, F.D. Miller, and J. Paul (eds) Personal Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005): 70-99. You can find the full text here: . Oderberg is also a Thomistic dualist (otherwise known as a hylomorphic or hylemorphic dualist)–well acquainted with Moreland (see n5)–but denies that the soul is identical to the person (although it does ground the identity of the person. See p93, 95). Rather, the person is a ‘compound of matter and form’ (p87), the ‘form’ of a person being their soul (p88). Thus Oderberg opines, “I take the primary reference of the first-person pronoun [‘I’], as used by me, to be myself as a person [i.e., the hylomorphic compound of body and soul]; but I propose tentatively that the reference to my soul… is a kind of secondary or instrumental reference…. My soul is the bearer of my identity as a person, but I am not, and was never, strictly numerically identical with it [96-97].” Yet if this is so, in the disembodied intermediate state I (myself) do not exist, only a part of what was me exists; the thing that is I/me is a body/soul compound. If personal identity is absolute (as Moreland argues and as Oderberg wants to hold) I cannot be strictly and absolutely identical to a mere part of myself (my soul) when the thing that is really me is a body/soul compound; the part cannot and will not suffice for the whole. Rather, if ‘I’ am called ‘me’ in the disembodied state, it can only be meant loosely having lost in the intermediate state half that of which I am composed (my body). There I am only 50% ‘me,’ myself not absolutely but by a matter of degree. Moreover, ‘I’ am to experience certain things (i.e., be comforted and ‘with Christ’–Phil 1:23), yet ‘I’ don’t really exist! Someone else (a half-‘I’) is getting the comfort promised to me. Yet that is absurd! I am either me or I am not–both now and in the future. Personal identity cannot real and at the same time a matter of degree. As I said previously, Oderberg is an exception that proves the (‘rightly so’) rule.

        That said, none of this should be used to support what NT Wright calls a ‘devaluing dualism’ of the Gnostic sort. Our God is the creator God, and what He creates (including matter) is good. Thus a philosophical analysis of substance dualism should not lead us to the theological conclusion of axiological dualism. We need to hold our Moreland and Wright together, not pit them against one another as you have done here.
        NW Clerk

  • Gabriel

    The CS Lewis twitter feed @CSLewisU apparently did not see this post. They have recently tweeted this quote in attribution to Lewis. I have asked them where he said this, but have yet to hear back.

  • NW Clerk

    Perhaps this is not a Lewis quote. Fair enough. But if the issue is taken further and it is being questioned whether or not Lewis identified the ‘I’ or ‘self’ with the soul and not the soul/body composite–as was done with the ‘you are a body. But you’re a soul too’ comment in connection with ‘update two’ concerning the ‘organic unity’ of body and soul–I must take exception. For in ‘Letters to Malcom’ (p17 in the 1991 Harvest edition), Lewis clearly identifies the ‘self’ or ‘I’ with the soul, and the body as a possession of the ‘self’ or soul:

    “When one prays in strange places and at strange times one can’t kneel, to be sure. I won’t say this doesn’t matter. The BODY ought to pray as well as the SOUL. BODY and SOUL are both the better for it. Bless the BODY. MINE has led ME into many scrapes, but I’VE led IT into far more.”

    Once again, perhaps it is the case that Lewis never uttered the phrase in question. But he certainly identified (like a good dualist–whether Catersian or Thomistic) the self/I with the soul. This need not lead to an axiological dualism as some fear (see John Cooper, ‘Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting’ for more on this), but rather to a clearer understanding of the sort of creatures God made us to be (hybrids of body and soul forever, yet only identical with the latter) and of the concepts involved (see JP Moreland, ‘Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview’ p285ff for the reasons why self/I must be identical with soul alone and not with either body or body/soul composites).

  • Read It

    Lloyd C. Douglas wrote “I am a soul. I have a body.” in his book Magnificent Obsession. He was similar to C. S. Lewis in his theological writing, maybe somewhere along the way the attribution of the quote just got mixed up.

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  • anon

    tldr; ive been out of body two times. “/thread”

  • Camila

    Not history, not research…. Thats pure spiritism!!!

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  • Joanna Hyatt

    Thank you both for this! I was about to use this quote, but was struggling with the apparent disconnect. You cleared it up. Never again!

  • Thank you. I suspected this quote the first time I heard it. It doesn’t “sound” Lewis, you know? And yeah, I didn’t like the theology either. :-)

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  • Stephen

    In the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis says (writing from the perspective of a demon): “At the very least, [Christians] can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”

    I think that is worth adding to this conversation. There’s some good stuff here, thanks!

  • Viv Harding

    Either Lewis said this, or he didn’t. It’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ scenario that does not require a thesis or a lecture on Christian faith from Hannah Whoever. As a Spiritualist, I pity the blind, misguided dogma of Christians everywhere. If any of you can, please disclose ANY contemporaneous historical EVIDENCE that Jesus ever existed. ANYTHING that was written by anyone who actually saw, heard or touched the man. It is all hearsay. . . Don’t get too attached to your body, Hannah.

    • skywire

        You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. All you have here is people saying “well I dont see why not”. HOW DO YOU KNOW AT ALL that this tradition existed from 30AD onward in UNALTERED form, until it was committed to writing decades (if not centuries) later. You are using secondary sources that are based on no primary sources and presupposing that what they say about the time prior to their creation IS a primary source

        • Dylan N.

          DEAD SEA SCROLLS. The ancient text were virtually unaltered from (ballpark) 900 b.c. to 100 a.d. and that was just the book of Isaiah. Which painted a picture of the death of Jesus, as well as the reason…You truly believe that followers of a man who didn’t actually exist would die some of the most brutal deaths willingly, though in their own text, talked very poorly about themselves and each other in regards of their king? Who was humiliated? Jesus had 2 known prostitutes in his blood lineage. Did they just add that in to “spice up” his blood line? In a culture where woman had no authority, Jesus revealed himself first to who? The woman? But man wrote the book…why wouldn’t they say that they saw Jesus? Yet the Romans excuses was what? “They snuck into the tomb in the middle of the night and stole the body.” So 1. A Roman guard on duty fell asleep (punishable by death) and 2. While he was asleep he saw who took the body? Makes sense…
          All I ever hear about in history is how great and how flawless our past leaders have been. The bible does not fail to show every major flaw of the people in the scriptures. Why? Because people are UGLY.

    • Mark Anderson

      It’s ok, Viv. We pity your blind, misguided belief system, as well.
      We don’t have any contemporaneous historical evidence that Ghengis Khan ever existed, either. There isn’t anything that was written by anyone who actually saw, heard or touched the man. However, because your limited belief system isn’t threatened by his existence, I’m betting you just go ahead and take for granted he was real.

      You should probably troll somewhere else; possibly somewhere your ilk gather to congratulate each other for making the same stale arguments time and again.


        UHHHH….yes we do have contemporaneous historical evidence that Genghis Khan existed. How could you possibly say that? But evidence is not even relevant to your belief system…AT ALL… so I’ll excuse you for fumbling when you actually have to deal with it

  • Great debate & revs, saints. May it all lead us higher up & further into a sweeter, deeper abandoning of our souls (“Bless the Lord, O my soul”-Psm103) & bods (“Offer your bod as a live gift”-Rom12) to the Lord. Isn’t this the desperate cry from our very heart, our spirit, from the “command center” of our soul & bod?!

    I’m reminded of how fearfully wonderful we were made. With the breath of God & the dust of earth “man became a Living Soul.” Whoa. Not angel (just spirit) nor animal (just flesh), but a unique, magnificent, free-will creature– able to glorify his maker & multiply himself! Able to talk with God & animals! Able to walk in Heaven & on earth at the same time! And live forever.

    Oh God, keep blowing our minds & breaking our hearts with the weight of Your…& our…& our neighbor’s… glory!

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  • Guest

    It’s from A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

  • Cam

    The (awesome, & probably accurate) quote is from ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’ by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

  • w

    how can you say it’s probably not right? aren’t matters of belief left up to mere opinion? ha, peace

  • believeanyway.wordpress.com

    Mr. Anderson—you had replied to one of my posts, which i approved and replied to. In that reply I responded that I had obviously gotten my sources confused. Although I have read nearly all of Lewis’ works, I obviously made a mistake.

    You responded that you doubted that I had gotten my sources confused. I am not sure whether you are assuming that I have never read C.S. Lewis, or you assume the internet is my only source of information, or just what. None of those options applies to me.

    Regardless, you and I both agree that passing along hopeful words (no matter who the source is) can be a good thing. You asked me to remove your email address that showed up when I approved your comment. Unfortunately, I have tried to do that, but have not succeeded. Therefore, I unapproved the comment so that your email address does not show up. I wanted to let you know–also, please delete this after you read it. I’d prefer that my site and email address not show up on your blog. Sincerely, Kate

    • believeanyway.wordpress.com

      i found a way to keep your comments intact without displaying your email. i am not sure why it happened in the first place, but it is handled now.—kate

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  • R

    Note the similarity of the quote to a verse from an ancient Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita:

    “As the body sheds worn-out clothes, so the soul sheds worn-out bodies. And as we put on new clothes, the soul dons new bodies, as if they were its raiment.”

    • SK

      Bhagavad Gita 2.22 A different translation:

      “As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.”

      From Bhagavad Gita As It Is. A Vedic, Yoga, and Hare Krishna scripture.

  • Dante

    The bible is full of examples of existence beyond the destruction of our bodies. Also, God is spirit,and we are made in His image,and our bodies formed from this earth. I could go on, but it seems fairly plain that biblically, the soul is the indestructible aspect of our being, and the body a temporal house (its even referred to as a temple).

  • dede

    I found this post and the comments fascinating and very thought provoking. I have just one comment in regards to the statement, “Organic unity” (human body and the human soul)

    Genesis 2:7 “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.” Our bodies were made of the dust – earth – organic. The soul was not made of the earth. It is not organic. Our soul is the exhaled breath of God. So… earthly things can not quench the hunger of the soul, nor can the soul continue to survive. It is ONLY the breath of God that feeds and nurtures the spiritual man! It is divinely birthed and divinely maintained. There was and is a lack of true unity between our flesh (body) and the God breathed soul. So goes the battle between my spirit man and my flesh.

    Jesus Himself, declared, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:41) Paul too speaks strongly of the on going battlefield of flesh & spirit.

    So, ‘organic unity?’, I say not.

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  • Hadanidea

    The term “body” represents energy and particles. Those particles (atoms) are made up of mostly space. If an atom were the size of a football field the nucleus would be the size of a lemon at one end of the field and the electron would be the size of a cherry at the other end of the field. (this may not be exact scaling but you get my point)

    The definition of an illusion is “something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality.” The irony is that reality is in fact deceiving us by producing a false or misleading impression of itself. Who says God is humourless??

    We’re getting hung up on a body that is merely a focal point in a sea of spacey particles and energy. Music within radio waves depend on a radio to bring it–music, into existence. So too the world depends on the mechanism that you are to bring it–the world, into existence.

    So what are we left with? Your super consciousness that we label “soul” together with the great all-loving, ever-present Source Of All Things…we label “God.” Everything else is a exquistely beautiful illusion. Enjoy!


  • Jeremy Rios

    I recognize this is an older post, but it ‘s worth mentioning that, more fully, MacDonald talks about this idea in his book “Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood.” Chapter 28, “Old Mrs. Tomkins.” Note, this was a book Lewis most certainly read.

    Here’s the quote in full:

    “And here let me interrupt the conversation to remark upon the great mistake of teaching children that they have souls. The consequence is, that they think of
    their souls as of something which is not themselves. For what a man has cannot be himself. Hence, when they are told that their souls go to heaven, they think of their selves as lying in the grave. They ought to be taught that they have bodies; and that their bodies die; while they themselves live on. Then they will not think, as old Mrs Tomkins did, that they will be laid in the grave. It is
    making altogether too much of the body, and is indicative of an evil tendency to materialism, that we talk as if we possessed souls, instead of being souls. We should teach our children to think no more of their bodies when dead than they do of their hair when it is cut off, or of their old clothes when they have done with them.”

    • Good find!

      • Wow! That MacDonald quote is some tasty heresy! I’m glad Lewis didn’t allow himself to be influenced by this particular belief of MacDonald’s.

        • Dave Jack

          Firstly, it’s not heresy. ‘what a man has cannot be himself’ is as simple logic as you could find. Secondly, there is no indication that Lewis was not influenced by this-unless he commented on it specifically, which I don’t think he did, the likelihood is that he DID agree, since he subscribed to the majority of what GM taught.

    • Dave Jack

      You beat me to it Jeremy (by a mere 4 years :) ) Incidentally, ‘Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood’ is a great read. It’s the first part of a trilogy (The ‘Marshmallows Trilogy’) and gives a semi autobiographical account of MacDonald’s own brief time as a pastor (at Arundel, Sussex) when his relationship with the parishioners, especially the poor, was by all accounts better than that he enjoyed with the church elders. I’m always perplexed, as Lewis was, by how few of his own readers read MacDonald, given the pains he went to to point out the debt he owed him…I know part of this has to do with his few of his books being sold in shops (though they’re easy enough to find online) , and part is due to the broad Scots in many of his novels (that doesn’t apply here though, as ‘Annals’ is set in England.) There’s also the fact that many conclude MacDonald was a heretic due to the ‘universalist’ tag that is often thrown at him, but Lewis himself combats this when he says “One very effective way of silencing the voice of conscience is to impound in an “Ism” the teacher through whom it speaks: the trumpet no longer seriously disturbs our rest when we have murmured “Thomist,” “Barthian,” or “Existentialist.” And in Mac-Donald it is always the voice of conscience that speaks.”

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  • Paul Sterne

    This one is floating around the internet ascribed to Lewis, but I can’t find anywhere that it actually cites what work it comes from. Anybody know whether it is another false Lewis line?

    “Getting over a painful experience is much like
    crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move

    • erinflew

      I also was trying to figure that out. While the analogy may be apt, I can’t imagine Lewis saying this.

      • Paul Sterne

        I am not sure whether the Brits call them “monkey bars”. Sounds like some monkey business going on.

  • Cameron

    The George MacDonald quote comes from his book Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood, which is an excellent read.

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  • Dave Willis

    I haven’t read all the comments so perhaps this has already been addressed but I disagree that it is incorrect or theologically unsound to say that we ARE souls and HAVE bodies. Nothing about this quote, regardless of its source, devalues the body or implies that it is temporary. In this life we have imperfect bodies corrupted by sin which will die and after the bodily resurrection we will have perfect bodies uncorrupted by sin which will not die. In both cases a body is a thing we have. Everything we have is given by God, all things being His to give as He sees fit, and should be stewarded with that in mind. Jesus spoke many parables on this topic. So having a body, rather than being one, does not affect how we should treat it or value it.

  • Don Williams

    I’ve read everything commercially available that C.S Lewis has written. I taught a class in high school Sunday school on Mere Christianity. The quote confirms my understanding of what Lewis presents in his writings. Not that he “for sure” said it, but it most definitely sounds like something he would say.

  • Don Williams

    The body is the “natural man”.

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  • Catherine

    I would love to share this, but in the third line…it’s for its. Really?

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  • Mark One

    The body of this discussion began with the assertion that C.S. Lewis did not say the statement “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
    I would say that that is not a true assertion at all.
    It may be said that C.S. Lewis was not the author of that statement, but it cannot be said that C.S. Lewis never actually said that statement at all in his life because it was what he believed.
    C.S. Lewis was a Bible believing Christian, so is it possible that he may have said what he believed from what is written in the Holy Bible. Is it possible that C.S. Lewis agreed with what George MacDonald(a minister) wrote or said regarding that statement and so C.S. Lewis actually said it because it was in harmony with his belief in the Biblical teaching?
    I will make the assertion that it is indeed possible that C.S. Lewis actually did say that statement even though he was not the author of it.Therefore it’s fair to say that people can quote C.S. Lewis as having said it, even though he was not the author of it.
    So if the principle of the statement “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” can indeed be found written in the Holy Bible then that is why it has no doubt been so widely quoted by Christians in history.

    KJV Genesis 2
    7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

    We see then from that text of scripture the proving of the statement “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”.
    “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground”… that’s the body.
    “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”… that’s the spirit from God that gives the body life.
    “and man became a living soul.”… so we are not given a soul, we become a living soul

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  • Enoch

    The Trinity doctrine is a false doctrine. God is not a Trinity. Man is not a trinity. From Taylor’s book:

    According to the Word of God, God formed Man’s body from the dust of the ground, breathed God’s breath of life (spirit) into Man’s body, and Man came alive, became a living soul; that is, Body + Spirit = Soul. Genesis 2:7 shows that The Trinity is a false doctrine. The Trinity, or any trinity, has 3 equal parts. This equation accurately reflects Genesis 2:7, and it demonstrates that body, spirit, and soul are not 3 equal parts. This equation says that body and spirit are two parts each by itself, but the soul is not a part by itself, for the soul is dependent on the other two parts, body + spirit. Can a body exist by itself? Yes. Can a spirit exist by itself? Yes. Can a soul exist by itself? No. A soul needs both body and spirit in order to come into existence, as this verse explicitly says.

    Copyright © 2016-2017 Arthur Rain Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
    Body, Spirit, Soul – An Exposition of Genesis 2:7
    ISBN-10:0-9985753-1-3; ISBN-13:978-0-9985753-1-5
    20-pages essay, $2.99 at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, etc.

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  • Paxman

    You are a cross.
    A divine Being is asleep in your heart, in the right ventricule.

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  • Tony Ryken

    We do not have a soul
    We are that living soul
    And when we do begin
    With life within
    Then the spirit will be found
    From the influence that is around

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  • IdPnSD

    The interpretation of the quotation is confusing because people do not know the true nature of the creation or correct relationship of soul-mind-body. Bible says – “God is spirit.” This means spirit has created everybody. And the spirit is same as soul. That means your soul has created you, my soul has created me, and every object is created by its own soul. Thus there is no God that created the entire universe. The same concept is described in more details in Vedas. Take a look at the soul theory chapter in the free book at https://theoryofsouls.wordpress.com/

  • Martin Pennington

    This quote is very similar to another I like which runs

    “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

    This is also wrongly attributed to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin but was in fact from Georges I. Gurdjieff and here in lies the heart of the matter.

    Both Gurdjieff and MacDonald openly confessed to being followers of a 17 century mystic named
    Emanuel Swedenborg
    who although he never said this nor was a he a Gnostic (one who believes the body is evil and the soul divine) produced extensive writings which can be interpreted to imply many things that are not christian nor what he believed.

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