There are at Least Eight ways of Being Human
I want to think about being human according to three categories (each binary): 1. Having or not having a body of flesh, 2. Being a person who sins or who does not, 3. Having the Spirit of God, or not. In a somewhat tabular form, we have these:
A person has a body, or does not.
A person is a sinner, or is not.
A person has the Spirit of God, or does not.
With these categories in place, I hope we can speak of the nature of the human under various conditions (eight ways of being human), and cut through the overly simplistic ideas of Platonism and other gnostic variations. More than that, I wish to divine from scripture various categories that are true of the human (even when being human includes being dead).
On the nature of the Human body
Already I need to introduce a distinction. Namely, there are two kinds of human body. There is a body that can die (a mortal body), and a body that will never die (a resurrected body). A person can have one or the other, or neither.
A Person without a Body?
Yes, a person is still a person, even if they are without a body of flesh. In fact, a human soul, without a body, is just that (a human-soul-without-a-body). That’s the kind of human a person is who is dead. That’s the kind of human they are. That does not mean that being without a body is desirable, but it is possible to remain human, and have no body.
Sine qua non: Image of God
What is common in all instances is that a person is in the image of God. A dead person, is a person, made in the image of God, who is dead. A dead person is a person. Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Being dead, he would be somewhere. Being alive or being dead, he still exists (and is a human).
The Eight Ways a Human can be a Human
A mortal body is one that can perish. A person can have such a body, and not be a sinner (Adam, for example, prior to sinning). He had a mortal body not sold under sin. A person’s body can be under sin (which means a person sins), or not. Jesus had a human body that could die, but he was not under sin. Now he has a human body that will not die.
Given all the categories I have laid out (hopefully as prompted by scripture), eight ways of being human.
- Mortal Body not under sin, without the Spirit (Adam, before he sinned)
- Mortal Body under sin, without the Spirit (non-Christian)
- Mortal Body not under sin, with the Spirit (Jesus, incarnated, up to and through the Cross)
- Mortal Body under Sin, with the Spirit (Christian)
- Dead human, without a body, with the Spirit (Jesus after his death and before his being raised; dead Christians now)
- Dead non-Christian, without a body, without the Spirit
- Immortal Body not under sin, with the Spirit (Jesus now, incarnated and resurrected; also what Christians shall be when Christ returns)
- Immortal Body under sin, without the Spirit (the resurrection of the ungodly when Christ returns)
Plato’s Anti-Materialism. Are these eight categories Platonic?
Plato did not account for all these states of being human. He believed that matter is corrupt (evil, if you will), and non-matter is good. I bring up Plato because we are often warned (and rightly so) about his negative influence, and we may detect something of him in two or three of the above ways of being human, and maybe wonder if those distinctions are from the influence of Plato’s categories of material vs. non-material. To answer this, I would like to point out the complexity of the Biblical data vs. the overly simplistic (and Jesus-excluding) nature of Plato’s view.
Plato, in a real sense, has nothing to do with this discussion. It’s just a matter of popular discourse to say he does. But he is an intrusion–the bible is driven positively by Christology, and not negatively by Platonism. Besides, Plato had all the wrong categories (and not enough of them)! That is, what I am talking about above can’t be compared to Plato’s system. Plato had the wrong set of categories and rules.
The biblical description of the ways a human can be human is safely distinct from Platonic thought, just as the rules of chess are distant from those of kickball. Chess and kickball are only comparable if one makes abstractions to the point of no particulars (that they both have “rules”, for example, only makes them similar in the most abstract of ways). If the abstraction is abstract enough, chess can be compared to kickball. But anything can be compared to anything if we go down that path. And just because someone could compare the Biblical data to Plato does not mean that the comparison is merited. By analogy, I would argue that Plato’s rules are not relevant to the discussion. The scriptural teaching on dead humans has nothing to do with adopting Plato’s views (just as chess is not a derivative of kickball).
N. T. Wright and Recent Scholarship Warns against Platonic Thought
I believe that it is recent scholarship (like the works of N. T. Wright) that raised the alarm to warn Evangelicals about Platonic intrusions. While N. T. Wright & co. are busy showing how Evangelicals are unwittingly adopting Plato’s rules, they seem to minimize a robust exposition of what it means to be a dead human (so it seems to me that they do this).
I am not worried about sounding Platonic. Not because I agree with Plato, but because Plato’s rules are not a norm of judgment for theology. A theologian can only violate the rules of Plato’s game within the system of his game. But since he had the wrong rules, and the wrong game, the rules of reality cannot be judged by his categories. Rather, his categories are easily shown to be incorrect (and beside the point)–again, I refer you to the eight ways that a human can be a human (listed above).
The Fourth Way of being Human
In the chart above, I think one of the most difficult ways of being human is the 4th way: Mortal Body under Sin, with the Spirit (Christian). This is the way of wrestling against principalities of darkness (Eph 6). This is the way of tribulation. This is the way of struggling hard against sin (Romans 7). This is the way of the Cross. This is the way of faith (where we see Jesus by faith — but one day, we shall not need faith to see him). It is not because we are Platonic that we would prefer to be with Christ (which means, we would have to die), but because we wish to be with Christ and desire not this life of constant temptations. Christ compels us (not Platonism). We really do want to be free from sinning in the flesh. The sin-body frustrates us in our cause to imitate Christ and to draw nearer to him.