The first man, Adam, became a living soul, the last Adam, a life-giving spirit
(1 Corinthians 15:45)
"Soul" is a word one hears often today. Usually, it is used by people to refer to one's "inner being." At other times, it is used to refer to our deepest feelings and thoughts. But within the biblical writings and the writings of the Fathers, it has a separate and different meaning. Awareness of the differences in meaning and usage is therefore a crucial step in not only recognizing, but in avoiding (and teaching others to do the same) the contemporary pitfalls of soul-theology as expressed in popular literature, movies, and academic ideas.
Near the beginning of First Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes that "those who are natural do not receive the gifts of God's Spirit, for they are folly to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). The Greek word Saint Paul uses for "natural" is "psychikos," meaning "soullish," or basically someone governed by the psyche, or soul. Anyone who is governed by his or her soul cannot receive the gifts of God's Spirit, and would in any case judge these gifts as foolish. Only the "spiritual" can understand them and discern them.
We are spirit, soul and body and this is what constitutes each human. The body requires the soul for life but it is our spirit (pneuma) within us, when properly ordered, which brings to the soul the knowledge of God. When the spirit is completely directed to the knowledge of Christ, then soul and body must and do follow the Lord; such a person is "spiritual," in the biblical sense of the word. The soul of the spiritual man, who has "the mind of Christ," is filled with knowledge of God (i.e., Spirit-filled). At our Lord Jesus Christ's coming, the spiritual man will be changed into a spiritual body and be like Him. The "soullish" man, who is concerned with himself, cannot and will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 2:16, 15:42-58).
In today's world, where people search for "soulmates," go to psychics for guidance, do "soul-searching," read self-help manuals on improving themselves, or seek alternative religious experiences and alternative religious symbols, the dangers of getting trapped in the natural soul are real.The soul separated from the knowledge of Christ is simply a repository of our life experiences and emotions, fears, and worldly knowledge. Even when our psychic-driven personalities are at their best, our knowledge of God does not, and cannot, change. But it is knowledge of Christ on His Cross which Saint Paul places above all else (1 Cor. 2:2; Ephesians 3:14-21).
The aim of our lives daily, then, must be to cultivate the "mind of Christ." This involves study and prayer, including fasting. It is labor, but without the spiritual farmer working the field, there is no harvest to look forward to; the land will grow barren and remain a refuge for dead works. But the Christian laboring for the "mind of Christ" labors where the harvest is plentiful. Here, Christ lives within the soul and body of the faithful, and the knowledge of God grows." Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so also we will bear the image of the man from heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).
Copyright © 2004 Panteleimon Klostri. Panteleimon Klostri is a graduate of Holy Cross Seminary. After seminary he taught in the New York City schools. Currently he teaches Critical Thinking, Composition and Research at a local community college.