Wednesday, November 26, 2014

John Locke on Body, Soul and Conditional Immortality


In a rather scintillating comment, Locke explains his dislike of the philosophies that had impugned Christianity. For instance, he writes “in the ages wherein Platonism prevailed, the converts to Christianity of that school, on all occasions, interpreted holy writ according to the notions they had imbibed from that philosophy.”[1] What is surprising about this is that many theologians during this time accepted the belief in body soul dualism, though this would not go unchallenged from all sides. Though dualism is prevalent in evangelical circles–not to mention some secular[2]–to this day, various modern biblical scholars and philosophers are rejecting dualism.[3] Where Locke agrees with modern day scholars is that “those who are possessed with the doctrine of aerial and aethereal vehicles [or what we would call the soul], have thence borrowed an interpretation of the first four verses of 2 Cor. V without having done any ground to think that St. Paul had the least notion of any such vehicle.”[4] Frankly, for Locke, he wants to know what Paul thought, not what people put in Paul’s mind and mouth. This will be revealed in his notes regarding what he believes St. Paul intended.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10. This text is often considered the vanguard of dualism in Scripture. Locke notes, with some giddiness, the Jewish background of Paul by proclaiming in a footnote on 4:17: “What an influence St. Paul’s Hebrew had, upon his Greek, is everywhere visible: [the word] in Hebrew, signifies “to be heavy,” and “to be glorious;” St. Paul, in the Greek, joins them, and says, “the weight of glory.”[5] What this indicates is that Locke knew of Paul’s Jewish background, and this is a clever notation, designed to showcase continuity between the Old and New Testament. While there are many additional factors that modern scholars argue about within this passage[6], Locke instead pushes, first, the necessity of the approaching of Christ’s parousia. Locke notes, “the apostle looked on the coming of Christ, as not far off, appears, by what he says, 1 Thess. 4:13.”[7] The resurrection has resulted in a ticking clock. Thus, while Locke doesn’t use the phrase ‘now and not-yet’ he certainly is of a similar state of mind in reading Paul’s words. Second, the emphasis on the pain and groaning of the body (v2, 4) reveals the physicality of the present body and “by putting off this mortal, earthly body”[8] can Locke then get to his third point. Third, “we are not, therefore, willing to be put off, but had rather, with out dying, have it changed.”[9] Locke’s explanation of ‘changed’ includes changing “into a celestial, immortal body”[10] but also is noteworthy that he believes that only those “who have the Spirit of Christ” shall be raised with this ‘celestial, immortal body.’ He builds off 1 Corinthians 15, but states what he believes the ‘nakedness’ of v3 to be: “the state of the dead, unclothed with immortal bodies, until the resurrection.”[11] The acknowledgment of judgment at the end of days showcases the eschatological and the ‘now and not-yet’ of Locke’s thoughts on this passage. For Locke, it is difficult to speak of human anthropology without discussing immortality and death. Thus, for the sake of space, I will condense immortality and death into the same discussion, as Locke seems to link them together in such a way anyway. 

Here, we examine his thoughts on the rest of Scripture.
From the beginning, Locke stresses that “what Adam fell from…was the state of perfect obedience…and by this fall he lost paradise, wherein was tranquility and the tree of life; i.e. he lost bliss and immortality.”[12] For Locke, everything begins with Adam’s fall, and Adam’s being “shut out forever from [the tree of life], lest he should take thereof, and life forever.”30 Paradise is coupled with immortality, “of life without end.”[13] This is remarkably similar to the modern lexical definition of “immortality”[14] and reflects Locke’s training in Greek. “[Adam’s] life began from thence to shorten, and waste, and to have an end; and from thence to his actual death, was but like the time of a prisoner, between the sentence passed, and the execution, which was in view and certain.”[15] From this fall from immortality, Locke confirms the nature of immortality, as it lacked “drudgery, and [was] without sorrow.”[16] Because of Adam’s sin, “all his posterity born out of it, the consequence of it was, that all men should die, and remain under death forever, and so be utterly lost.”[17] There is no natural immortality given to human beings; we share the fate of Adam, namely death. Locke further paraphrases that God is “incomprehensible, majestic, eternal and incorruptible”[18] as opposed to man preferring to worship “the images of corruptible men, birds, beasts, and insects.”[19] Locke further mentions that because of this, death entered the world, alluding to two key texts: Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:22, stating, “By reason of [Adam’s] transgression, all men are mortal, and come to die.”[20] Locke did not concede the argument that exclusion entailed a conscious, miserable existence away from God. By no means; instead he argued the opposite, “the wages of sin should be to every man, as it was to Adam, an exclusion of him out to that happy state of immortality, and bring death upon him.”[21] Exclusion entails the loss of immortality, followed by the natural conclusion of death. 

Appealing to James 1:15[22], Romans 5:12[23] and 6:23[24], Locke argued strongly “no righteous person, no one that is guilty of any breach of the law, should be in paradise.”[25] Within the context of the pursuit of “eternal life” in Romans 2:7, he unpacks the logic of Paul’s verse of what God will give to the righteous: “eternal life to all those who by patience and gentleness in well-doing seek glory and honour, and a state of immortality.”[26] All others who forsake such righteousness will be met with retribution. The principle idea in Romans 5:12-19 is “that by Adam’s lapse all men were brought into a state of death, and by Christ’s death all are restored to life. By Christ, also, as many as believe are instated in eternal life.”[27] For this reason, Adam “forfeited immortality, and became thereby mortal.”[28] For Locke, “having sinned” entails the fall into mortality.47 The resurrection of Christ reverses mortality, bringing mankind back to the original source of life: communion with God and each other.[29] Immortality is never said to be given to all men, just to the saints of God.[30] Locke concludes, “immortality and bliss, belong to the righteous; those who have lived in an exact conformity to the law of God, are out of the reach of death; but an exclusion from paradise and loss of immortality is the portion of sinners.”[31] Adam was created immortal, and this entailed that he was in the image of God; “but Adam, transgressing the command given to him by his heavenly Father, incurred the penalty; forfeited that state of immortality, and became mortal.” Simply, Adam was immortal before the action of sin, and this immortality, which included right relationship with the God of the living, was removed. “After this, Adam begot children” but they were “in his own likeness, after his own image,” mortal, like their father.”[32] Thus, those born from the Adamic line are begotten with mortality and cannot naturally live forever. Indeed, that is the curse; that death is the true result of sin. 
Explicitly in his paraphrase of Romans 6:21-23, Locke couldn’t be more forthright with what he believed St. Paul was teaching: “For the end of those things is death, which are done in obedience to sin, is death. But now, being set free from sin, being no longer vassals to that master, but having God now for your lord and master, to whom you are become subjects or vassals, your course of life tends to holiness, and will end in everlasting life. For the wages[33] that sin pays, is death: but that which God’s servants receive, from his bounty, is the gift of eternal life[34], through Jesus Christ our Lord.”[35] Death has a straightforward meaning: to die is to not live. It is to be subject to the natural outworking of life. In this sense, Locke affirmed very strongly universal mortality and the reward of sin as ‘death.’ In some sense, the quotation from Braveheart rings true: “Every man dies, not every man really lives.”

In his finest paraphrase of Paul’s epistles, John Locke presents the magnum opus of the resurrection: 1 Corinthians 15.[36] He concurs with Paul that the fundamental principle is that “In truth, Christ is actually risen from the dead, and become the first fruits[37] of those who were dead. For, since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead, or restoration to life.”[38] The logic for Locke is two-fold: the return of Christ, who has risen; the resurrection of “those, who are his people, his church, and this shall be at his second coming.”[39] According to Locke, Christ “must reign, till he has totally subdued and brought all his enemies into subjection to his kingdom. The last enemy that shall be destroyed, is death.”[40] The emphasis Locke puts on the resurrection is not surprising, given Paul’s passion and Locke’s exegesis: for John, “when death comes, as it shortly will, there is an end for us forever.”[41] Death is the utter end of life, the cessation of personality and existence. By no means is this the end for Christians. Indeed, it is the greatest hope a mortal can have. Locke argues strongly that the resurrection of the dead includes only those in Christ.[42] Indeed, Locke appears skeptical that Paul thought there would even be a resurrection of the lost[43], a doubt I share as well. Immortality is thus within the framework of God’s act in restoring creation. Like Satan falling like lightning, death is banished forever from all of God’s creation. 

NQ



[1] A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, xx.
[2] A recent example can be found in that 64% of U.S. adults believe in the survival of the soul after death.
http://cnsnews.com/news/article/susan-jones/poll-americans-belief-god-strong-declining
[3] This is just a sampling: Joel B. Green, Body, Soul, and Human Life. E. Earle Ellis, Christ and The Future of the Christian Church, 179-197. Nancey Murphy, Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? Oscar Cullmann, The Immortality of the Soul or the Resurrection of the Body? Peter van Inwagen and his essay “Dualism and Materialism: Athens and Jerusalem.”
[4] A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, xx.
[5] Ibid, 228 n.17.
[6] Joel B. Green, Body, Soul, and Human Life, 170-172; 175-177. He states, “…Paul’s language is indeed dualistic but not in an anthropological sense. He thinks of an eschatological dualism, contrasting the now
and the not-yet.” 176.
[7] A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, 228 n. 3. Locke also points to several other passages:
1 Cor. 1:7; 7:29, 31; 10:11; Rom. 13:11, 12.
[8] Ibid, 228.
[9] Ibid, 229.
[10] Ibid, 229.
[11] Ibid, 229 n. 4.
[12] The Reasonableness of Christianity, 8.
[13] Ibid, 8.
[14] BDAG 155. “Aphtharsia” refers to the state of not being subject to decay,/dissolution/interruption,
incorruptibility, immortality. This word appears several times in 1 Cor. 15. V42, 50, 53.
[15] The Reasonableness of Christianity, 8.
[16] Ibid, 9.
[17] Ibid, 10.
[18] A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, 235-6.
[19] Ibid, 235.
[20] The Reasonableness of Christianity, 8.
[21] Ibid, 11.
[22] Ibid, 11. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Locke continues with “as it were, by a natural and necessary production. Many modern annihilationists have appealed to this same text, arguing for a non-specialized non-spiritual meaning of ‘death.’ Simply put, Locke appears to concur, suggesting that death is a natural outcome of sin. C.f. Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes 3rd Edition, 219-221.
[23] Ibid, 11: “Sin entered into the world, and death by sin.”
[24] Ibid, 11: “The wages of sin is death.”
[25] Ibid, 11.
[26] A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, 221.
[27] Ibid, 321.
[28] Ibid, 322.
[29] Locke translates “justification and life” in Rom 5:17 as “justification to life.” A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, 327.
[30] A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, 328: “For eternal life is nowhere, in sacred scripture, mentioned, as the portion of all men, but only of the saints.”
[31] The Reasonableness of Christianity, 11.
[32] Ibid, 66.
[33] Locke’s footnote, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, 340, n23: “The wages of sin,” does not signify here the wages, that are paid for sinning, but the wages, that sin pays.” Locke notes the contrast between ‘wages of sin’ and the ‘gift of God’ as eternal life.
[34] Locke’s footnote, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, 340, n23: “Sin pays death to those, who are its obedient vassals: but God rewards the obedience of those, to whom he is lord and master, by the gift of eternal life. Their utmost endeavours and highest performances can never entitle them to it of right; and so it is to them not wages, but a free gift.”
[35] A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, 340.
[36] The amount of sheer space that Locke gives to 1 Corinthians 15 merits its own independent treatment, and I regret not being able to do justice to it’s totality. The footnotes are also extensive, taking up whole pages, and his paraphrase is deep and compelling.
[37] Locke’s footnote, A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, 187: “The first fruits were a small part, which was first taken and offered to God, and sanctified the whole mass, which was to follow.”
[38] A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, 187.
[39] Ibid, 187.
[40] Ibid, 187-188.
[41] Ibid, 189.
[42] A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, 191. First, what is raised (v43) is resurrected in glory, and the wicked aren’t raised in glory. Second, “we” means those who “bear the image of the heavenly Adam.” Third, the dead “in Christ” includes only Christians, as pointed out in 1 Thess. 4:16-17. Fourth, the victory of God over death includes the removal of all wicked from creation.
[43] A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistle of St. Paul, 191 “So that from the 23rd  verse, to the end of the chapter, all that [Paul] says of the resurrection, is a description only of the resurrection of the just, though he calls it here, by the general name of the resurrection of the dead.” Every verse, according to Locke, from v41 onwards, proclaims this.

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