Wolfhart Pannenberg on Body-Soul Unity

Systematic Theology vol. 2.

WP urges that we are psychosomatic unities, rather than two juxtaposed essences.  So he rejects substance dualism, which is a problem, but he also refuses to reduce the soul to the body, unlike tendencies of some at Calvin College.

He argues that the soul is deeply rooted in the body (182).  I agree. In older language we would say the body “traduces” the soul. He begins with Genesis 2:7.  We are ensouled bodies, a nephesh hayya.

What is a Spirit?

WP is very clear that spirit/Spirit means vital creative force, not merely intellect (185). Whenever we have ruach, we are alive. If God were to withhold his ruach (Job 34:14ff), we would die.

Further, a ruach or a pneuma is not the independent creaturely station.  While Paul does speak of human beings as spirit, soul, body, he makes several moves which prove difficult for seeing spirit as soul.  

In 1 Cor. 15 he mentions the life-giving Spirit (pneuma zoopoioun), not at the original creation, but as a feature of the eschatological man.  How is this possible, since the first Adam clearly had the spirit? WP suggests Paul is drawing upon a Wisdom tradition that links Spirit and Wisdom (188; Job 32:8).

Pannenberg doesn’t clinch that argument, though I am sympathetic to it.  He does argue from a different angle, though. He notes that “neither the description of Adam as a living soul in Gen. 2:7 nor the view that life is a work of the divine breath of life gives humans any uniqueness as compared with other living creatures.  Animals, too, rank as nephesh hayyia (Gen. 2:19) and have the spirit of life in them” (1:20; 6:17; 7:22; Pannenberg 189).

There is something to that.  If nephesh hayya means an independent constitutive element of man, then it is rather odd to see that animals have it, too.  Of course, one could say that the nephesh hayya in animals is the “animal spirit.” Of course, the text never says that and it really strains the reading of it.

To shore up: Pannenberg is correct on his reading of spirit.  It can’t simply be identified with “soul.” Contra trichotomists, however, neither is it a constitutive element in man. But Pannenberg also wants to reject the traditional understanding of the soul.  This isn’t necessary. He is on the right track in that he avoids materialistic reductions. But if we go that route, and if we affirm things like life after death before the resurrection, then we are committed to the idea of the soul.

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Philosophy, theology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Wolfhart Pannenberg on Body-Soul Unity

  1. Pingback: Pannenberg on the image of God | Blog of the Wars of the Lord

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