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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

On the Soul: An Examination of Plato and Paul

The matter of the σωμα ψυχικον of 1 Corinthians 15:44-46 accentuates the animating principle of Paul's ψυχη, in that it delineates the natural principle of physical life.72 Indeed, because ψυχη is the vitality of the human body, the existence of ψυχη without that of σαρξ - 'flesh' - is impossible.73 Moreover, 1 Corinthians 14:7 describes the flute and harp as αψυχοs, 'lifeless' or 'inanimate things,'74 thereby standing in contrast with ψυχη, which itself denotes the principle of animal life.75 In this way, the σωμα ψυχικον - 'soul-body' or 'soulish body' - signifies the 'natural inheritance' by which the human being acquires life.76 Indeed, the NRSV translation of 1 Corinthians 15:44 corroborates this notion, as the Greek σωμα ψυχικον is rendered 'physical body.' The σωμα ψυχικον is then the body which is composed of two indivisible elements:77 the σωμα represents the material element - the physical basis of the human being - and the ψυχη is the animating element.78 Thus, the human in Paul's conception is a composite creature made up of both tangible and intangible parts, positing a working definition of the human as a σωμα animated by the ψυχη.79 Thus, the body and soul, as defined here, have an intimate sort of relationship, one which puts forward both as wholly bound one into the other.

This sense of the ψυχη flows directly into the second connotation Paul uses, that of the soul representing the individual. In three instances, ψυχη denotes the very self of the human being,80 and both Romans 2:9 and 13:1 are examples of Paul itemising everyone with the phrase πασα ψυχη, 'every soul,'81 as he states every soul of man is an agent of evil, and every soul must be subject to the governing authorities. In this way, ψυχη is underscoring the idea of the entire human being in action, with no limitation of parts82 - a complete individual in a σωμα ψυχικον - for Paul is not thinking of the human in Romans 2:9 as consisting of an evil soul, but instead the human is a unified whole of whom is also a sinner.83 Furthermore, in 2 Corinthians 12:15 Paul states that he would willingly εκδαπανηθησομαι 'υπερ των ψυχων - that is, 'be spent completely on behalf of your souls'84 - by which he indicates his willingness to be completely worn through in exchange for the value of the life of each Corinthian. In this way, the soul is presented as the bearer of personality, as Paul would willingly give his self for his fellow believers.85 Thus, these particular usages of ψυχη are argued to show Paul's special attention of the value of individual personality, being used as emphasis to indicate the totality of the self in the human person, and thereby distinguishing humanity from the inanimate world.86

Still, the relationship is a bit more complex, especially since the range of ψυχη is somewhat limited.87 That is, ψυχη is not only the principle of animal life, or the indication of an individual person, but it perhaps also suggests the specific human condition of being alive - a state which is inherent to the human being and manifests as a 'striving, willing, purposing self.'88 Indeed, the third connotation Paul suggests with his use of ψυχη emerges three times,89 and presents the soul as the seat of not only the will, but also of thought, and of feelings.90 This aspect holds the relation to the σωμα, as noted above, in that it is in constant contact with the senses.91 Additionally, this connotation holds a mental element within it, as evidenced in Philippians 1:27 where the Greek μια ψυχη can be translated as 'one spirit,' but with the implication of unity in agreement, thereby creating a similar attitude among the people.92 In Colossians 3:23 the phrase εκ ψυχηs means 'of/from the soul,'93 and thus put into context is an exhortation to 'work from the soul,' paralleling the Ephesians 6:6 statement of doing the will of God εκ ψυχηs. These three examples thus imply a volition involved from the soul, tying back into the notion of the ψυχη as an essential part of the human creature and herein relating more closely to the modern notion of psychology.

  1. Stacey, Pauline, 124.
  2. Zakopoulos, Saint Paul, 87.
  3. Ibid., 114. See also William P Dickson, St Paul's Use of the Terms Flesh and Spirit (Glasgow, : James Maclehose & Sons, 1883), 191.
  4. Zakopoulos, Saint Paul, 87.
  5. Dickson, Flesh and Spirit, 176, 191.
  6. Ibid., 176.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Zakopoulos, Saint Paul, 88.
  9. Dickson, Flesh and Spirit, 183.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Stacey, Pauline, 123.
  12. Author's translation of the GNT.
  13. Stacey, Pauline, 123.
  14. Dickson, Flesh and Spirit, 183-184.
  15. Stacey, Pauline, 125.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Zakopoulos, Saint Paul, 88.
  18. Stacey, Pauline, 121.
  19. Dickson, Flesh and Spirit, 176.
  20. Zakopoulos, Saint Paul, 88.
  21. Recovery Version.
  22. Stacey, Pauline, 121.