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The Person in The New Testament

There is somewhat less agreement on New Testament conceptions of human nature. Most scholars now agree that the New Testament generally supports a holistic and nonreductive physicalist account of the person. However, some argue that the New Testament presupposes dualism, since there are a few passages appearing to support a doctrine of "the intermediate state." This intermediate state, it is said, assures Christians that between death and the general resurrection they survive to await judgment. Therefore, the person must be "constructed in such a way that at death it can `come apart,' with the conscious personal part continuing to exist while the organism disintegrates."See Joel Green's chapter in Brown et al., Whatever Happened to the Soul? Some of the biblical texts cited to support this are Matthew 10:28; Matthew 27:50; Luke 16:19-31; Luke 23:42-43; John 12:25; 1 Peter. 3:19-20; and Revelations 6:9-11. Several questions have to be settled in regard to these texts and their relevance for the "intermediate state." Again, one question concerns translation. For example, when it is said of Jesus in Mt. 27:50 that he "gave up his spirit," is this to be taken literally, or as a metaphorical way of saying that he died?

Second, Christians have had to distinguish between the teaching of Scripture and the assumptions, concepts, and theories of the time they were used to convey the teachings. In other words, it is common to speak of God's revelation being accommodated to the thought-forms of the ancient cultures. An important example is the use of -- or accommodation to -- ancient cosmology throughout the Old Testament, as when Isaiah says that God will gather Israel and Judah from "the four corners of the earth" (Isaiah 11:12). So if it is shown that the New Testament speaks of an intermediate state -- or otherwise presumes some sort of dualism -- an important question to raise is whether this is biblical teaching or merely accommodation to the thought of the times. That is, we have to ask whether metaphorical language was used to convey theological truths that could not have been conveyed very well in other thought-forms at the time.

It may be most accurate to say that the New Testament has no explicit teaching on this issue. Rather, various New Testament writers assumed one or another conception of the constitution of the human being in order to teach about other issues concerning the relation of humans to one another, to the rest of creation, and to God.See George Hunston Williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962), 580-592.

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