The Bible’s View of the Human Body 2: Holistic Redemption

Last time we looked at how the creation and fall affect how we think about our bodies.  We are at once the result of God’s magnificent design, bearing His image and simultaneously fallen, radically seeking our own selfish interests.  Thankfully, God does not leave us alone in this condition.  He has provided a solution to our problems—a solution that will save not just our souls, but our bodies as well.  Before moving on to look at how the Scriptures teach an integrated view of the salvation of the body, we need to take a quick detour to Athens.


Although most do not realize it, so much of how we think about ourselves today derives from ancient Greek philosophy.  According to Plato’s Phaedo, on Socrates’ last day alive, he mocked his closest friends for weeping over his impending death.  Having drunk the fatal hemlock, Socrates knew that his time was short.  However, he did not turn away from death as one would turn from an enemy but welcomed it with arms wide open.  Socrates was an expert at contemplation, spending long hours probing the depths of metaphysics, ethics, and politics with his mind.  While analyzing and meditating on a particular concept, his body sometimes interrupted him.


Phaedo 66d-e But the worst of all is that if we do get a bit of leisure and turn to philosophy, the body is constantly breaking in upon our studies and disturbing us with noise and confusion, so that it prevents our beholding the truth, and in fact we perceive that, if we are ever to know anything absolutely, we must be free from the body and must behold the actual realities with the eye of the soul alone.


Beyond the body’s crasser functions, he said that even the best senses like hearing and seeing could not contribute to pursuing truth.[1]  He genuinely believed the body hindered his attainment of knowledge.  So, when the time came for him to escape his body, he rejoiced at the opportunity finally to enjoy uninterrupted cogitation.


The Bible, on the contrary, presents an entirely different understanding of the body.  Rather than looking at the body as a mere outer, disposable husk with the soul as the inner, essential kernel, it portrays the body as an integral and necessary part of the human person.  The Hebrew people did not draw strong distinctions between the body and the mind.[2]  For example, even after Jesus died, Mary asked the gardener, “Tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (John 20:15).  Jesus’ body was still Jesus, as far as Mary knew.  Earlier, she had cried out, “They have taken away my Lord” (v13).  If she were a follow of Plato’s philosophy, she would have said, “They have taken away my Lord’s body.”  She failed to distinguish between the body and the person, even after death.  As it turns out, Mary’s Jewish perspective is not that of an outlier, but the typical integrated understanding of personhood affirmed throughout the Bible.  Rather than surveying the whole of Scripture, we’ll limit our focus to Jesus himself—the quintessential human representative.


The incarnation of God’s word (logos) as a human being clearly shows the high dignity God places on humanity (John 1:14).  God did not bring about salvation through a spirit, but through one “born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).  This decision provided the perfect solution to the problem:


Hebrews 2:14-17    14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.  16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.  17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.


Jesus had to be like his brothers in every way.  This means he experienced the body’s appetites, including both the joys of satisfying them and the difficulties of resisting them.  The fact that God chose to save the entire human race through a genuine human being dignifies humanity.  Ultimately, it was Jesus’ body that bore the suffering and death, resulting in atonement and reconciliation.  It was his lacerated back, his pierced hands and feet, his thorn-crowned head, his struggling lungs, his sweat, his tears, and—most of all—his blood that made peace between us and God.  As he hung there, hour after hour, his body became a canvas, depicting the horror of humanity’s sin.  The whole person—both body and mind—suffered and bore our grief and sorrow (Isaiah 53:4).  They pierced and crushed him—the entire Jesus—for our transgressions and iniquities so that “with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).  His will and his body were one on the cross.  He did not say, “Do with my body what you will; it doesn’t matter anyhow.”  When they offered him a painkiller, wine mixed with gall, he refused to drink it and disassociate from his surroundings (Matthew 27:34).  No, he remained an integrated, whole person on that cross.


Though God’s choice to enact salvation through a man certainly bestowed incredible honor upon humanity, His commitment to human physicality became evident on the third day when He raised our Lord from the dead as a restored and glorified human being.  Far from a one-off event, Jesus’ resurrection foreshadows what God plans to do with all His people on the last day.  The Bible does not portray eternal life as disembodied souls frozen in an eternal staring contest with God’s radiance, but our old world made new, complete with trees, rivers, people, fruit, and at least one great metropolis (Rev 21-22).  This tactile vision of the future may have repulsed the Greek mind, but the Hebrews never saw a problem with it.  For example, when the prophet Ezekiel saw the valley of dry bones going through successive stages of rattling bones, stretching sinews, growing flesh, covering skin, and the animating wind of God, he evinces no hint of disgust or disappointment (Ezekiel 37).  Moreover, Jesus’ experience leaves little doubt about the physicality of his resurrection body:


Luke 24:36-43    36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!"  37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.  38 And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."  40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?"  42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.


Having seen him, heard him, touched him, and watched him eat, the disciples reluctantly came to grips with the fact that the one standing before them was, in fact, the risen Jesus.  Christ’s example is important for understanding the ultimate state of all God’s people because we know that when he comes, “he will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Php 3:21).  Christ is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20).  This implies that “we shall be like him” when he returns (1 John 3:2).  This means that God not only started off humanity in bodies, but He also intends for us to end up embodied for all of eternity.  What more dignity and value could God possibly place on humankind’s physical form?


The simple fact is that God cares about each of us as whole persons.  It’s not just our minds or what we do during corporate worship that interests Him.  Just like a good parent, He cares about our entire lives.  His concern for our body stewardship shines through in this oft quoted passage:


Romans 12:1-2    I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.


The Apostle Paul utterly disregards any kind of a mind-body duality here.  Our bodies are to be living sacrifices, while our minds resist conforming to this world’s shape and instead align with God’s will.  As we will see, this integrated holistic approach can help us make sense of a number of complicated contemporary issues.  In the next article, we’ll take some time to consider more about how the Bible talks about our human bodies, especially from the Song of Solomon.


[1] “What I mean is this: Have the sight and hearing of men any truth in them, or is it true, as the poets are always telling us, that we neither hear nor see any thing accurately? And yet if these two physical senses are not accurate or exact, the rest are not likely to be, for they are inferior to these. Do you not think so?” Plato, Phaedo 65b, Plato in Twelve Volumes, vol. 1, tran. Harold Fowler (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966).

[2] Psalms 32:3; 44:25; 63:1; Prov 4:21-22

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