Friday, April 30, 2010

O LORD What is Man? Absent from the Body (It's Not What You Think)

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote that "while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord" and that we "prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Most assume this is a reference to the "intermediate state" in which, upon dying, the disembodied spirits of saints go to be with God in heaven, awaiting the resurrection. John Gill, for example, explained it this way:

The interval between death, and the resurrection, is a state of absence from the body, during which time the soul is disembodied, and exists in a separate state; not in a state of inactivity and sleep, for that would not be desirable, but of happiness and glory, enjoying the presence of God, and praising of him, believing and waiting for the resurrection of the body, when both will be united together again; and after that there will be no more absence, neither from the body, nor from the Lord. (Gill, John. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:8". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible")

On the surface, the text does seem to suggest something along these lines. Upon digging more deeply, however, I have concluded that this is not the case, and that Paul is instead speaking of the resurrection itself. I'll explain why shortly, but first some background into what prompted me to write this.


A month or so ago, in "The View from the Fence," I blogged that I had recently shifted, from being firmly in the camp of the traditional Christian view that humans are comprised of both body and "spirit" or "soul," to precariously perched atop the fence between that view and an extreme minority view within the Church. That view, called "physicalism" (among a couple of other labels), holds that man has no soul separate from his body which resides with God in heaven after death. Instead, when the body dies, the man ceases to exist until the resurrection.

I remain on the fence, yet unconvinced of physicalism. However, I recently left my friend, Dee Dee Warren, host of The Preterist Podcast and owner of The Preterist Blog, with the impression that I had become convinced. She is currently reading (among other things) Facts and Theories as to a Future State by F.W. Grant, in which the author addresses physicalism and attempts to refute it. She posted an excerpt in which the author attempts to refute the physicalist's opinion that when Paul says we "prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord" in 2 Corinthians 5, he is not speaking of being disembodied in heaven, awaiting the resurrection, but is instead speaking of being absent from this body, present in our resurrection body.

Dee Dee had posted this excerpt at my request. I had spoken with her on the phone not long before, expressing my discomfort at the prospect of accepting a view held by a tiny minority of the Church for nearly 2,000 years, asking her for resources that might support the traditional view. Unfortunately, after reading the author's argument, I was left dissatisifed and unconvinced, and I jumped at the opportunity to explain why. I jumped so quickly, in fact, that it led Dee Dee to respond as follows:

You are coming across as already having your mind made up...I am concerned that you don’t have a healthly enough dose of supsicion with the zeal with which you attacked his statements. That took me a bit aback quite honestly. A very short period of time elapsed between my post and your response, and you were on it like a piranha on a corndog.

I love the analogy, incidentally. I explained in turn that no, I honestly have not made my mind up about physicalism, but that I am convinced that this particular passage in 2 Corinthians 5 is irrelevant. That it doesn't speak of the so-called "intermediate state" in which we reside in heaven, disembodied, awaiting the resurrection. The traditional view may, in fact, be correct, but I think its historically misinterpreted this passage.

Excuse the lengthy introduction and allow me to explain why.


Here is the passage in question:

6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord--7 for we walk by faith, not by sight--8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8, emphasis mine)

Now, on the surface, these verses do seem to suggest that we are courageous in the face of death, knowing that at death our spirits reside with the Lord in heaven, "absent from the body." A couple of other interesting statements in this chapter seem to lend support to this interpretation. In verse 3 Paul says that upon being given our resurrection bodies, we "will not be found naked." In verse 4 he says we "do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life." Why, the traditionalist might ask, does Paul use imagery like this if we can't, in fact, be "naked" and "unclothed?"

I'll come back to that question later. First, however, we need to take a closer, more careful look at this passage, extending further back into the previous chapter.


About halfway into chapter 4, Paul begins to speak of preaching the gospel with courage in the face of death. He writes,

8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you. 13 But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE," we also believe, therefore we also speak (2 Corinthians 4:8-13, emphasis mine)

Paul and the Apostles faced immense persecution and even impending death for the gospel they preached. In what does Paul say they were "always carrying about...the dying of Jesus?" ἐν τῷ σώματι, or "in the body." And in case "in the body" isn't clear enough, he goes on to define it as "in our mortal flesh." This will become important when we get to the passage in question.


But why, one might ask, does Paul want to live out the death of Jesus in his body? What faith does Paul have that leads him to face death at every turn in order to advance the gospel? He tells us in verse 14:

14 knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you (2 Corinthians 4:14, emphasis mine)

Paul exhibited courage in the face of death because he knew that just as Jesus rose from the grave, so too would he rise from the dead. What was Paul's faith and hope in the face of affliction? The resurrection body. This is the context of Paul's curious words later in his letter.


At this point, Paul speaks of something very interesting, saying,

15 For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:15-16, emphasis mine)

What is our "inner man?" If in the next chapter Paul likens the body unto a house (which he does), and if the decaying body is here called our "outer man," doesn't it stand to reason that our "inner man" is our soul, inhabiting the body? No, I don't think that's a warranted assumption.
The Greek word "inner" here is ἔσωθεν (esothen) and is never connected with a soul inhabiting the body. Rather, it is used metaphorically to speak of a man's true, inward motives, desires, nature or condition. Consider how this word is used elsewhere:
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly [ἔσωθεν] are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside [ἔσωθεν] they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. (Matthew 23:25; see also Luke 11:39-40)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside [ἔσωθεν] they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. (Matthew 23:27)
So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly [ἔσωθεν] you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:28)
21 For from within [ἔσωθεν], out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 All these evil things proceed from within [ἔσωθεν] and defile the man. (Mark 7:21-23)

While the "inner man" might be a reference to one's soul, there's no justification for reading that into the text. These uses of the word ἔσωθεν make it clear that all that's intended by the word is a reference to one's inward desires and thoughts. False prophets aren't inhabited by the spirits of hungry wolves. Rather, their thoughts and motives inwardly are contrary to their outer appearances. The hypocritical Pharisees appeared to be pure on the outside, but were in fact unclean in their heart, in their inner desires.

Consider a similar Greek phrase rendered "inner man" which uses the word ἔσω (eso) and which appears in a couple of other places:

21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner [ἔσω] man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7:21-23, emphasis mine)

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father...16 that He would grant be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner [ἔσω] man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

We see again no suggested reference to a man's soul. There is no warrant for reading that into the text here. The "inner man" is where a born again follower of Christ's love for God and for others originates, yes. But there is no hint of an ethereal soul here. Instead, he equates the "inner man" with the "heart" to the Ephesians, and with the "mind" to the Romans. He speaks of the "inner man" being empowered in order that Christ would dwell in our hearts through faith. He also describes the result of being empowered by the Holy Spirit in the "inner man" as being able to "comprehend" and "know" the love of Christ.

This is important, because while some would attribute desire and godliness (or lack thereof) to one's spirit/soul, these passages seem to connect the "inner man" more with comprehension and understanding. Notice that to the Romans Paul likens his "inner man" to his "mind." He uses the same Greek word as is found later in his letter where he urges the Romans to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). And the word "renewing" here is the same Greek word used in 2 Corinthians 4:16 (the passage we're examining) where Paul writes that "our inner man is being renewed day by day."

The link, then, does not appear to be between the "inner man" and one's soul. Instead, the link appears to be between the "inner man" and one's mind. The Greek word for mind is νοῦς (nous), and it refers to one's intellectual faculty for perceiving, for understanding, for judging, for determining, for reasoning, for considering. After His resurrection, He appeared to the disciples and "opened their minds [νοῦς] to understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45). The word is believed to be the root of the Greek word γινώσκω (ginosko) which means "to learn" or "to come to know." One's "mind" doesn't just feel, it understands, it judges, it discerns.

Coming back to these verses in 2 Corinthians 4, here's the point. Paul's contrast does not appear to be between one's body and one's spirit, but between one's body and one's knowledge, one's understanding, one's faith. The body is decaying away, but we are being "transformed by the renewing of our mind," growing in our knowledge of and trust in Christ. While some attribute these faculties to the soul, there's no justification for doing so.


Paul goes on, saying,

17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 1 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Corinthians 4:17-5:1)

Now, I've included the first verse of chapter 5 with the end of chapter 4. After all, in the original there were no chapters, just one continuous letter. Paul says that in the midst of affliction, our mind is being renewed day after day as we focus our attention on the eternal and not the temporary. He goes on to give an example of this contrast which gives us hope in the midst of suffering: the resurrection.

Remember that back in verse 14 of chapter 4, Paul says that knowledge of his future resurrection encourages him to suffer for Jesus. After explaining that our minds are being renewed in the midst of affliction by looking toward the eternal rather than the temporary, chapter 5 begins with Paul returning to the resurrection. That which is visible and temporary is our "earthly tent," our "mortal flesh" as he called it back in verse 14 of chapter 4. In contrast, that which is yet unseen but eternal, is our future "house not made with hands," our resurrection bodies.

James Burton Coffman wrote, "Paul made tents with his hands; but the glorious resurrection body is far above and beyond anything that human hands might contrive" (Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament"). A. R. Fausset wrote, "This "house" can only be the resurrection body, in contrast to the "earthly house of the tabernacle," our present body" (Jamieson, Robert; A.R. Fausset; and David Brown. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5."). Chuck Smith wrote, "The mansion that the Lord is talking about is the new body He's got for me. I'm living in this tent, but one day I'm going to move into a mansion" (Smith, Chuck. "2 Corinthians 5." The Word for Today.).

It should be noted, too, that the Greek word for "house" in this verse is οἰκία (oikia), and doesn't just mean a building of some sort. It refers to an inhabited dwelling, one's home. This will prove important shortly. In the meantime, the point is that beginning in the middle of chapter 4 and extending now into chapter 5, the context is the contrast between two homes: our current, mortal body and our future resurrection body.


Paul continues with this contrast, saying,

2 For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, 3 inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. 4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:2-4)

The contrast which Paul began back in verse 14 of chapter 4 is the same contrast he's giving here; the context hasn't changed from the contrast between the mortal body and the resurrection body. We groan in our mortal bodies longing for what? Our resurrection bodies. But Paul adds an analogy into the mix, likening the body not just to a house but to clothes, saying that having put it on we "will not be found naked."
Now, some take the language in these verses as supporting the notion that the human spirit becomes disembodied at death, "naked" as it were. However, it is worth noting that Paul never says we will be "naked." Quite the contrary; he says we won't be "naked." Furthermore, he explicitly says that our hope is not to be "unclothed," but rather it is to be "clothed" with our immortal, resurrection bodies.
Why even use this language, then, if being "naked" and "unclothed" were not something to be expected prior to the resurrection? Well, first we should ask, does "naked" and "unclothed" refer to being disembodied in the first place? It's interesting that the analogy of clothing is only applied to the resurrection body, and not our current body. In other words, there is no indication from the text that we are not already "naked." In fact, the word "naked" here is γυμνός (gymnos) and Paul uses it in his first letter to this congregation in likening the present body to a seed. He had previously written to them,
35 But someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?" 36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; 37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare [γυμνός] grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. (1 Corinthians 15:35-38)

Notice Paul likens the present, mortal body which is buried unto a "naked" grain. We know it's the body, not the spirit, which he likens unto a "naked" seed because he then says it is "sown a perishable body" and "sown a natural body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). He says that God gives this "naked" grain a body unique to it. This would seem to suggest that in our present bodies we are "naked" now, insofar as we are not yet clothed by our glorified, resurrection bodies. This may be what Paul has in mind here in his second letter when he says that upon donning our future bodies, we will no longer be "naked" and "unclothed."

On the other hand, if the language of being "naked" and "unclothed" does mean to be disembodied, I believe its presence here is precisely because it is not to be expected. Paul's readers were Greeks and struggled with belief in the resurrection, instead believing in the "immortality of the soul ... that after death the soul escaped from the body to be absorbed into the divine or continue a shadowy existence in the underworld" (Donald Guthrie, The New Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1071, quoted by Coffman). Paul's readers came from a background which taught that upon death we would be "naked" and "unclothed," and it seems to me Paul is telling them, "No! We won't be naked! We won't be unclothed!"

Regardless, the point is there is no indication here that Paul is saying our disembodied spirits will be with God in heaven after the death of the body. He never says that will happen, and continuing with his ongoing contrast between the mortal body and the resurrection body, he says our hope is to be clothed upon by our immortal, glorified bodies.


Having just gone to great lengths--beginning even earlier than this chapter, as we've seen--to explain that our hope is in the resurrection, Paul tells us this:

5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. 6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord-- 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight-- (2 Corinthians 5:5-7, emphasis mine)

Paul says God prepared us for a purpose and gave us the Spirit as a pledge. What is the purpose for which we have been prepared? The resurrection, as Paul has made clear! And we have the Spirit as a pledge, or promise, that this will happen! Paul tells us that this promise of the resurrection gives us courage while "at home in the body" as we walk by faith and not by sight, harkening back to the end of the previous chapter where we're told our minds are renewed as we focus on the unseen, eternal things. The context is still the resurrection, hope in which gives courage in the midst of suffering.

Now, two things are worth pointing out in the original Greek here. First, earlier when discussing verses 8 through 13 in chapter 4, I pointed out that Paul says we are carrying out the death of Jesus "in the body," ἐν τῷ σώματι. He uses the phrase twice, and then calls it specifically "our mortal flesh." Here, Paul uses the same phrase, ἐν τῷ σώματι. Those who insist the upcoming verse is proof of the intermediate state claim that reading "in the body" as "in this body," one's current body specifically, is unjustified. Yet, it is Paul who tells us that's precisely what he has in mind when he uses the phrase ἐν τῷ σώματι, which he earlied called "our mortal flesh."

At this point, one might object saying that just as Paul had said that we carry about the death of Jesus ἐν τῷ σώματι, he also says the life of Jesus will be manifested ἐν τῷ σώματι. If one understands the manifesting of the life of Jesus as referring to the resurrection, then ἐν τῷ σώματι would appear to be a reference to just one body, mortal prior to the resurrection, made immortal thereafter. This is certainly true, but at the same time he speaks of two bodies in this chapter: a body which will be torn down--our mortal body--and another body from God which we will put on in the resurrection.

The testimony of Scripture is that yes, the body that is buried is raised unto glorification. Yet, it is transformed in such a way that it can be legitimately called a different body. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul says that in the resurrection God "gives [us] a body" and that "if there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:35-44). In the same way, Paul says here that there are two "houses;" the current mortal body and the future immortal body. So when the life of Jesus is manifested ἐν τῷ σώματι ("in the body"), it is transformed from the "earthly tent" to the "building from God."

Second, recall that Paul earlier contrasts the mortal body and the resurrection body by likening them to "dwellings" or "homes" using the Greek word οἰκία. Here, "at home" is the Greek verb ἐνδημέω (endemeo) which means to "dwell in one's own country" or "stay at home." And "absent" is the verb ἐκδημέω (ekdemeo) which means "to be or live abroad;" that is, away from home. If Paul's contrast earlier is between two "homes," it follows that his contrast here between being "at home" and "away from home" is a contrast between the same two states: the mortal body and the resurrection body. This body and that body. While "at home" in this body we are "away from home" in the future body with the Lord.


This brings us to the verse in question:

8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)

At the beginning I said that on the surface this verse does seem to suggest that upon death we are disembodied in heaven with the Lord. But now that we've walked through the passage in its context, it no longer seems to support that notion. Recall that
  1. In the previous chapter Paul begins to explain that we carry about the death of Jesus in our bodies, ἐν τῷ σώματι, which he calls "our mortal flesh."
  2. He says we do so because we know that just as Jesus rose from the dead, so too will we.
  3. In transitioning into this chapter, he says that through affliction our minds are renewed as we look not toward the visible, temporary things but the unseen, eternal things, knowing that though our current bodies will die, our resurrection bodies await us.
  4. To begin this chapter he contrasts our current bodies and resurrection bodies by likening them unto "homes." He then likens only the resurrection body unto clothing, specifically saying we will not be "naked" or "unclothed" but will be "clothed upon" by resurrection bodies.
  5. He says the very purpose for which we are prepared is the resurrection, and that the Spirit is our guarantee that we will rise and put on our resurrection bodies.
  6. He says this promise gives us courage while "at home" ἐν τῷ σώματι, "in the body" which earlier he called "our mortal flesh," using verbs harkening back to the analogy of "homes" with which he began the chapter.
So when we get to verse 8, with all the above in mind, what indication is there that "absent from the body" means absent any body, disembodied in heaven? Paul has gone on and on about the hope of the resurrection that gives us courage in the face of suffering, and specifically says we won't be found "naked," that we don't want to be "unclothed"--which probably doesn't mean disembodied anyway. What contextual or grammatical justification is there, then, for reading this verse as suddenly and very briefly referring to something else? There is none.

As I've said, I am still on the fence when it comes to physicalism. Scripture may, in fact, teach that humans are comprised both of a physical body and a non-physical spirit or soul which is disembodied at death and goes to dwell with God in heaven awaiting the resurrection. This passage does not rule that out, but neither does it teach that. The "intermediate state" is utterly foreign to this text, wherein Paul is merely reaffirming the hope he expressed in the previous chapter, that though the "home" that is our present body will one day be "torn down," when we are "away from home" in the present body we will be "at home" in our "building from God," the immortal, glorified, resurrection body.


If after reading through the text with me and carefully considering my exegesis you disagree, and still insist "absent from the body" here is a reference to disembodiment in the intermediate state, please feel free to explain why in a comment or email me. I am aware of maybe a couple of objections to my exegesis, and will post them in a follow-up to this in a few days. However, it is possible that I've missed something, and I'm open to the possibility I'm wrong.

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