A SUBSTANCE DUALIST ANTHROPOLOGY
By L. Springer, M.Div.
This paper describes, in short, my position on substance dualism.[i] I make no attempt to argue the case. In their book, Body and Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics, J. P. Moreland and Scott Rae argue an excellent biblical and (mostly) philosophical case for substance dualism, and much of my position reflects this fine work.[ii] Readers seeking to interact with the argument are encouraged to read Body and Soul. In the endnotes, I have included standard definitions from Richard A. Muller’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, as well as a few substantial quotes from Moreland and Rae. In the few paragraphs below, I describe my understanding of human nature, human personhood, and human composition, and then relate that understanding to the incarnate Son of God.
Human nature[iii] is the “what-ness” of humanity.[iv], [v] It distinguishes humans from other beings such as goldfish, cats, and angels. The sin nature[vi] is not essential to human nature, but is, rather, a condition, like cancer. Essential human nature carries the image of God and a human person remains human in time and eternity. In the incarnation, Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, took on full human nature.
Human personhood[vii] is “who-ness.” It resides[viii] in the soul.[ix] After the body dies and before it is resurrected, the human person continues to exist, albeit in an intermediate, disembodied state. The individual remains a human person with a human nature, despite the lack of a body.
Humanity was designed by God to be an embodied (material) soul[x] (immaterial).[xi], [xii] Therefore, in the intermediate, disembodied state between the death and resurrection of the body, the human person remains. Even during the intermediate, disembodied state, human nature retains the material body as a potentiality. The unrealized nature of this potentiality does not reduce the human person.
As fully human, Jesus is an embodied human soul, with a human nature. This was true in his earthly state and remains true in his glorified state. Jesus is also fully divine and has a divine nature. He is one person with two natures.
Due to the incarnation of the Son of God, an accurate theological anthropology is critical. Since Christ is fully divine and fully human, an incorrect anthropology may result in an incorrect Christology. Since Christology is basic to Christianity, an incorrect Christology is heresy. The church worked out its Christology in the early ecumenical councils and the creeds developed in these councils ought to be consulted when developing an anthropology or Christology today. A correct anthropology and Christology will cohere with Scripture and with established doctrine.
Moreland, James Porter, and Scott B. Rae. Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics.
Muller, Richard A. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology.
[i] “Substance dualism is the view that the soul—I, self, mind—is an immaterial substance different from the body to which it is related.” James Porter Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul : Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics (
[ii] My agreement with Moreland and Rae is nearly complete, with two exceptions. First, I am skeptical of libertarian free will, for it seems to trample on God’s sovereign free will. Second, I am undecided as to Moreland and Rae’s taking the human body as something other than material substance. Both issues require further investigation and will not be covered in this paper.
[iii] Natura: “the character or quiddity…of a thing as defined by its primary qualities.” Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms : Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985), 199.
[iv] “All humans have humanness, and that explains the unity of the class of humans why certain things ([a man]) belong in that class and why other things ([a dog]) do not. In this sense, a thing’s membership in its natural kind is grounded in its essence (nature, “whatness,” secondary substance). The essence is the set of properties the thing possesses such that it must have this set to be a member of the kind and that if it loses any of its essential properties, it ceases to exist.” Moreland and Rae, 75.
[v] “In creating human beings, God first conceived of humanness as a blueprint [(i.e., human nature)]. Then, when he created Adam and Eve, he literally placed the blueprint in them as an internal organizing principle.” Ibid., 207.
[vi] Peccatum Originale: “not a substance or a positive attribute, but a defect in human nature caused by the fall and consisting in the loss and consequent absence of original righteousness…” Muller, 221.
[vii] Persona: “In brief, the term has traditionally indicated an objective and distinct mode or manner of being, a subsistence or subsistent individual, not necessarily substantially separate from other like personae.” Ibid., 226.
[ix] “If God and, perhaps, angels are paradigm-case persons and since they are immaterial spirits, then it is at least consistent that something be both a person and an immaterial spirit. But more than this, if the paradigm-case persons are immaterial spirits, then this provides justification for the claim that anything is a person if and only if it bears a relevant similarity to the paradigm cases.” Moreland and Rae, 25.
[xi] “Animals and humans are composed of an immaterial entity—a soul, a life principle, a ground of sentience—and a body. More specifically, a human being is a unity of two distinct entities—body and soul. The human soul, while not by nature immortal, is capable of entering an intermediate disembodied state upon death, however incomplete and unnatural this state may be, and of eventually being reunited with a resurrected body.” Moreland and Rae, 17.
[xii] “…the soul is the first efficient cause of the body’s development as well as the final cause of its functions and structure internally related to the soul’s essence. The functional demands of the soul’s essence determine the character of the tools, but they, in turn, constrain and direct the various chemical and physical processes that take place in the body.” Ibid., 205.
Tag(s): substance dualism theology anthropology
See CC License
Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. http://www.esv.org/