The Apostle Paul was no stranger to Greek notions of the soul. In the first chapter of Romans, he narrates his acknowledgment to the wisdom of the ancient Greeks. Even though he notes that salvation is only available through the gospel of Christ, nonetheless the Greeks had contact with the truth. This truth had been made manifest to them by God. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse . . .” (Rom. 1:20). Also, St. Paul spoke to the men of Athens about their temple that he witnessed being dedicated to an unknown God. Paul then said this “unknown God” is the true God who created the world.
The term ψυχή is utilized only 13 times in his epistles as against the frequent use of Πνεύμα. This is not to downplay the significance of the former as Paul’s theory of the soul was by and large induced by it; these references will essentially be broken down in this order:
a) Soul as vitality, life principle.
b) Soul as Spiritual Body
c) Soul as Universal Principle.
The word Psyche, denoting life, life principle, vitality or principle of the physical life, minus any psychological context, occurs six times in his Epistles. In Romans, he twice utilizes Psyche as indicating life:
In Romans 11:3 he recalls Elijah’s words that they are seeking my life, “Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars. I am the only one left, and they are trying to take my life!” In 16:4 he speaks of Prisca and Aquila, his fellow-workers, who risked their own lives to save his life, “They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.”
In Philippians 2:30 the verse is as follows, “For he (Epaphroditus) almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.”
In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.
The next references are in regard to verses of the Corinthians, that will also largely comprise our next blog on the Gnostics revolving around the contrast between the psychic and pneumatic, that for the Gnostics consists of one being either a pneumatic, or others being psychics and hylics:
[The pneumatics (“spiritual”, from Greek πνεῦμα, “spirit”) were, in Gnosticism, the highest order of humans, the other two orders being psychics and hylics (“matter”). A pneumatic saw itself as escaping the doom of the material world via the transcendent knowledge of Sophia’s Divine Spark within the soul.]
In 1 Corinthians 15:45 it has been written: “The first man Adam became into a living soul;” the last Adam into a life-giving spirit.” The [Gnostic] key to interpreting this verse is to realize that Paul has used this same combination – psychikos and pneumatikos – earlier in his letter to distinguish between unregenerate and regenerate spirits. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says that the “natural person (psychikos) does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” This describes our present mortal/corruptible body as a psychikos (natural) body, in contrast to our future immortal resurrection body as a pneumatikos.
The psychikos person cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God because they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them (v. 14). This is because they can only be discerned spiritually (pneumatikos).
This distinction has nothing to do with one’s ‘true nature‘ (emphasis mine) but is dependent on whether or not one has received a revelation (an apocalypsis), the active agent of which is the Spirit of God (v. 10). [Andrew Johnson, Turning the World Upside Down in 1 Corinthians 15: Apocalyptic Epistemology, the Resurrected Body and the New Creation]
When Paul speaks of “the body in light of Spirit”, he’s referring to a body enlivened, empowered, and transformed by God’s Spirit:
The overwhelming importance of the term soma for St. Paul can be readily discerned in his body-oriented language. He says that given over to the desires of the heart, fallen human beings dishonor their bodies (Rom. 1:24). Paul also referred to being present in the spirit, though absent in the body (I Cor. 5:3); and he recalls an out-of the-body experience (2 Cor. 12:2). “I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows.” Paul’s concept of body, beyond the normal, everyday sense of physical body, is ‘a corporate whole or corporation’ (surely an ironical phrase seeing that corpus renders soma in Latinate vocabulary), that is, individuals in their bodies ‘working together in harmony for a common purpose’. Paul’s most distinctive use of the concept of body, one which clearly differentiates his picture of human nature from both the Greek and the Hebrew, is the diremption between the present living body and the resurrected body. [To await the coming of the Lord in his resurrected body, inclusion mine] [Paul S. MacDonald, History of the Concept of Mind Vol 1., pg. 98)
In his Theology, Paul always insisted that psyche stands for everyone, universally. He reaffirmed that there was no favoritism for God. Everyone is subjected to the test. Romans 2:9, “There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of mankind who does evil, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” At the same time, everyone is incorporated under the umbrella of salvation. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13) Thus, to sum up, in Paul one cannot separate soul from spirit–for it is by the Holy Spirit that one’s soul becomes sanctified.