N.T. Wright has offered Christian philosophers a proposal where it is apparently possible to hold the belief in the intermediate state-resurrection of the body and an ontological holism in the same sense at the same time. I argue that this not only creates a basic contradiction in Wright’s ontological paradigm, but also it is not a coherent and tenable proposal despite the fact one might eventually find a potential solution to such a quandary.
Many questions have risen about the mind-body debate throughout the centuries. The topic has not only been of interest to Hebrew and Jewish theologians but also to Greek philosophers, not only to the Western but also to the Eastern, and similarly, not only to Christian scholars but also to mainstream thinkers and philosophers. Therefore, the mind-body debate is more than an abstract topic, but a human endeavor. The area I am interested in analyzing in this paper is regarding some of the implications of holding the belief in the intermediate state-resurrection of the body in relation to the nature of the human being. Thus, certain kinds of monists (e.g. physical, organic, and holistic) usually claim that when human persons die, it happens to be the dissolution of their being. On the contrary, dualistswho tend to claim that after bodily death human persons may continue to exist argue that there is a real intermediate state after bodily death where human persons exist in a disembodied and temporal form. This dichotomy has caused those biblical scholars who hold to dualism affirm the intermediate state, while those who hold to the monist view deny it. The mind-body debate would not have importance if it did not impact people’s lives at all. As it does, the discussion has serious moral and ethical repercussions, although postmodern society usually downplays those repercussions.
A well-known theologian and scholar who has discussed the nature of the human person is N.T. Wright. Besides his ability to articulate in a clear theological language, Wright’s perspicuity in discussing central teachings in the New Testament is noteworthy and admirable. He is a brilliant writer. Nonetheless, I find his position and reflections on the reality of the soul sort of troubling. Although Wright does affirm a real intermediate state, he also defends an ontological holism. How should these contradictory positions be treated? In light of Wright’s affirmation of two opposing beliefs, I will focus on his article titled Mind, Spirit, Soul and Body: All for One and One for All: Reflections on Paul’s Anthropology in his Complex Contexts in order to demonstrate that N.T. Wright’s position of defending both his ontological-holistic understanding of the human person and his belief in a real intermediate state-bodily resurrection in the same sense at the same time is not coherent and tenable, despite the fact one might eventually find a potential solution to such a quandary.
*This is a summary of the paper published as “N.T. Wright and the Body-Soul Predicament: The Presumption of Duality in Ontological Dualism,” Stromata: The Graduate Journal of Calvin Theological Seminary 58, no.1 (Fall/Winter 2016): 111-136. If you’d like to read this paper in full, please click here to download it in pdf format.