Re: [GTh] Re: the division of the soul
----- Original Message -----
From: "Peter Novak" <novak@...>
Sent: Tuesday, July 13, 2004 1:02 PM
Subject: [GTh] Re: the division of the soul
> By the time Christianity arrived on the scene, Greek ideas about a
two-part soul comprised of psuche and thumos had saturated the entire
Mediterranean area. Those Greek cultural ideas were the soil in which
> And while most Christians today assume that the terms soul and spirit are
synonyms, Christianity was originally in accord with Greek thought on this
issue, distinguishing between these two parts of the self just as
unequivocally as the rest of the Hellenized world. Further agreeing with the
Greek model, one New Testament passage reveals that it was openly taught
in the early days of the church that the soul and spirit were capable of
dividing from each another:
> The word of God is living and active and more powerful than any two-edged
sword, and cuts so deeply it divides the soul from the spirit.- Hebrews 4:12
I suggest that your phrase, "Christianity was originally in accord with
Greek thought on this issue", over-generalizes.
Certainly, a distinction between spirit and soul is found in a number of
early Chrsitian documents, so that it is safe to say that some circles of
early Christianity were in accord with Greek thought on this issue.
However, since such a distinction is not found in many early Christian
documents, I think it over-reaching to say that there was a unanimity on
this point in early Christianity.
Also, I think it important to note that those early Christians who did make
a distinction between the spirit and the soul generally believed that a
human being consists of a spirit-soul-body/flesh triad.
So, in Hebrews, we not only have the spirit and the soul in 4:12, but also
the flesh in 10:20.
Again, in I Thess 5:23, Paul and Silvanus refer to "your whole spirit and
soul and body".
Too, in the Markan account of the agony of Jesus at Gethsemane, he has Jesus
not only refer to the soul ("My soul is very sorrowful, even unto death."),
but to the spirit and flesh as well ("Indeed, the spirit is ready, but the
flesh is weak.").
Also, in Thomas thought, there is the body/flesh, the soul, and the spirit
(e.g., see 112, "Jesus said, 'Woe to the flesh that depends on the soul; woe
to the soul that depends on the flesh.'", and 29. "Jesus said, 'If the flesh
came into being because of spirit, it is a wonder. But if spirit came into
being because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders.").
Finally, there is the body/flesh, the soul, and the spirit in the Epistle of
James (see 2:26, "For as the body without the spirit is dead,", and 5:20,
"save his soul from death".).
So, to focus only on the spirit and soul is to over-look a third key player
in this conceptualization of a human being held by some early Christians,
i.e., the body/flesh.
>Yet another early Christian work, The Gospel of Mary, was unearthed in 1896
after also having been lost for nearly 2000 years. And again, just like the
Nag Hammadi scriptures, The Gospel of Mary also seems to reflect the binary
soul doctrine (BSD):
> "Peter said to Mary : "Sister, we know that the Teacher loved you
differently from other women. Tell us whatever you remember of any words he
told you which we have not yet heard." Mary said to them: "I will now speak
to you of that which has not been given to you to hear. I had a vision of
the Teacher, and I said to him: 'Lord, I see you now in this vision.' And
he answered: 'You are blessed, for the sight of me does not disturb you.
There where is the nous, lies the treasure.' Then I said to him: 'Lord, when
someone meets you in a moment of vision, is it through the soul that they
see, or is it through the spirit?' The Teacher answered: 'It is neither
through the soul nor the spirit, but the nous between the two which sees the
> Nous, of course, is the ancient Greek term often translated as 'intellect'
or 'mind'. Its use here clearly shows that at least one branch of early
Christian anthropology included a BSD system of two primary souls with a
third element in-between them. .
In The Gospel of Mary of Magdalene (p. 66), Karen L. King states, "According
to the Gospel of Mary, however, it is not the soul that sees the vision, but
the mind acting as a mediator between the sensory perceptions of the soul
and the divine spirit."
So, according to her, the "spirit" in the passage from GMary you cite is not
a human spirit, but the divine Spirit.
Accordingly, then, she thinks that, in GMary, a human being consists of the
mind, the soul, and the body/flesh. So, she (p. 65) states, "For the
Gospel of Mary, a human being is composed of body, soul, and mind. The mind
is the most divine part of the self, that which links it with God. The mind
rules and leads the soul, so that when the mind is directed toward God, it
purifies and directs the soul toward spiritual attainment. As the Savior
said, 'Where the mind is, there is the treasure' (GMary 7:4)."
Indeed, in a Nag Hammadi text, the Teaching of Silvanus, we find a similar
division of a human being into a mind, a soul, and a body/flesh. So (92) we
read, "The divine mind has substance from the Divine, but the soul is that
which he (God) has formed for their own hearts. For I think that it (the
soul) exists as wife of that which has come into being in conformity with
the image, but matter is the substance of the body which has come into being
What I suspect is that, in Silvanus and GMary, what we have is a later
variation on the earlier spirit-soul-body/flesh triad in which the spirit is
replaced by the mind, so that it becomes a mind-soul-body/flesh triad.
1809 N. English Apt. 15
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