SOME THOUGHTS ON AN EXPRESSION OF ST. PAUL,
IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS, CHAPTER V., VERSE 23.
1. The words, as literally translated as the English tongue will bear, run thus: "May the whole of you, the spirit, and the soul, and the body, be preserved blameless."
What does St. Paul here mean by dividing man into three parts, "the spirit, and the soul, and the body?"
This creates what has been thought an insurmountable difficulty by those who argue thus :—
"How is it possible to contradistinguish the soul both from the spirit and from the body? For it must be either material or immaterial, matter or not matter: There is no medium. But if it be matter, does it not co-incide with the body? If it be not matter, does it not co-incide with the spirit?"
But perhaps a way may be found of untieing this knot, of unraveling this difficulty, by simply declaring the (at least probable) meaning of these three terms.
May not the spirit mean (so it has been understood by the Christians in all ages) the highest principle in man, the immortal spirit made in the image of God, endued (as all spirits are, so far as we can conceive) with self-motion, understanding, will, and liberty?
Is not the body that portion of organized matter which every man receives in the womb, with which he is born into the world, and which he carries with him to the grave? At present it is connected with flesh and blood. But these are not the body. They are only the temporary clothing of the body, which it wholly puts off in the grave.
The soul seems to be the immediate clothing of the spirit, the vehicle with which it is connected from its first existence, and which is never separated from it, either in life or in death. Probably it consists of ethereal or electric fire, the purest of all matter. It does not seem to be affected by the death of the body, but envelopes the separate, as it does the embodied, spirit; neither will it undergo any essential change, when it is clothed upon with the immortal body at the resurrection.
May not the Apostle have an eye to this in those remarkable words:—" We that are in this tabernacle" (this corruptible flesh and blood) "do groan, being burdened; not for that we would be unclothed," (divested of all covering, which belongs only to the Father of spirits,) "but clothed upon" with the glorious resurrection-body, covering both our soul and spirit? (2 Corinthians v. 4.) This will swallow up, totally destroy, τὸ θνητὸν,— that which was mortal, namely, the flesh and blood, which alone was liable to death.
If we understand the words of the Apostle in this sense, all the difficulty vanishes away. We allow, there can be no medium between material and immaterial. But still there is room for a wide and essential difference between the soul and the body; the latter implying that original portion of matter which is now clothed with flesh and blood; the former, that vehicle of ethereal fire which immediately covers the immortal spirit.