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Phenomenological Language in Ancient Revealed Narrative

English > Fields of Research > Biblical Theology

P. Rüst (2006), Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 58/2, 164-165;
http://www.aneste.ch/files/Phenomenol.pdf
Original web publication by the American Scientific Affiliation (but with defunct e-mail address):
http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2006/PSCF6-06Ruest.pdf

A response to a critic of P. Rüst (2005), "Dimensions of the Human Being and of Divine Action", Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 57/3, 191-201: the definition of "soul" in the creation narrative.

Main points:

What are the "souls" in Genesis 1:20 (sometimes translated "creatures")? Am I claiming too much by drawing conclusions as to the essence of the human "soul"? Don't science and the Bible agree on rejecting any body-soul dualism? Don't we have to restrict ourselves to biblical essentials like Christ's incarnation?

Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection are absolutely unique. Nevertheless, Christ's assuming common human body-soul-spirit dimensions provides for the cross and the resurrection, and thus for all believers' justification and transformation into eternal life. Although we have a foretaste through the Holy Spirit, we cannot yet conceive what we shall be as multidimensional body-soul-spirit-eternity persons after Christ's image.

A Christian wedding is a joyful feast, based on God's wonderful gift of marriage, beautifully displaying the 4 dimensions or phenomenological connotations of body, soul, God's image, and, for Christians, spiritual life.

- Critics of an understanding of Genesis 1 as a narrative compatible with scientific knowledge usually claim that a literal reading of the text would contradict science. They claim, for instance, that the creation of first "living souls" on day 5 ignores invertebrates, that birds came after the land animals created on day 6, etc.

- They neglect the fact that a genuinely literal reading requires taking seriously the connotations of words or expressions the first readers held. If the ancients restricted their concept of "living souls" to rapidly moving animals of a visible size, this would include many, but not all Cambrian and Ediacaran invertebrates. This biblical concept implies beings minimally possessing a blood (or hemolymph) circulation and a sufficiently developed nervous system. For want of an equivalent scientific name, I have called them "higher animals", a concept different from, but about equally imprecise as the modern connotation of this term. The "flying animals" of day 5 would of course include insects and bats.

- Critics assume that Genesis 1 is talking of 24-hour days, although epochs of unspecified lengths, grading into each other, represent a better phenomenological reading. Each novelty arising on a given "day" would of course continue into all subsequent ones, so that the time sequence given would apply to the firsts.

- A crucial mistake, furthermore, is the supposition that "creation" excludes evolution. "Creating" designates the origin of a fundamental novelty, whereas "making" and other terms used bear the connotation of further development of existing entities .

- It is often claimed that only humans created in God's image have a soul. This idea ignores the distinction between God's image given to all humans and the baptism with the Holy Spirit given only to those who personally accept Jesus as their Lord (and who at this time are born again). It also ignores the biblical way of viewing humans as body-soul-spirit unities who don't have souls, but are souls.

- The concept of the "soul" or "spirit" being separated from the body at death and of an intermediate state is as speculative and unbiblical as "original sin" being inherited.

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Last updated Okt 17 2011 | paraske@aneste.ch

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