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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology


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Old Testament . The doctrine of creation sets forth the essential corporeality of human existence. When God created Adam and Eve, he provided them with physical bodies (Genesis 2:7,22 ). The fact that God formed the physical body first and then breathed into it the breath of life means that we are living bodies, not simply incarnated souls. This holistic relationship between body and soul undermines any thought that a human being is simply the sum of its parts (i.e., mind + soul + body, etc.). One does not have a body, one is a body.

Bodily existence is not only an essential aspect of being human, it is also God's perfect will. In the beginning God pronounces that all of his creation is "very good" (Genesis 1:31 ). So to be truly human is to exist bodily. This divine affirmation of physical existence is diametrically opposed to any notion that the body is inferior to the spirit. Unlike the Gnostics of the second and third centuries a.d., the Scriptures never represent the physical body as a prison from which the spirit must be freed. There is absolutely nothing inherently evil about the human body. Throughout the Old Testament, the body is presented as a marvelous gift from God, which evidences his indescribable wisdom and power (Psalm 139:14-16 ). It is never represented as an impediment to communion, service, or worship of God. Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect fellowship with God, and that fellowship was experienced in the body (Genesis 1:27-31 ). This integration of body and soul constitutes an internal dynamic that is truly remarkable. The body becomes the expression of the soul. The voice articulates prayer, raised hands express praise, bowing low reflects humble adoration and worship.

This essential relationship of body and soul provides for an extraordinary integration of the material and spiritual realms. For example, the sin of Adam and Eve not only affected their spiritual status before God, but had physical consequences as well. They died and the earth from which the body was formed was cursed (Genesis 2:17; 3:17-19 ). With regard to the final disposition of the body the principle of "dust to dust" holds true (Genesis 3:19; Job 10:9; Psalm 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Ecclesiastes 12:7 ). The body is folded as a tent and returns to the earth from which it came (Psalm 146:4; Isaiah 38:12 ). Job declares that despite the natural decomposition of his body, he will see God with his own eyes, in his own flesh (19:26-27). The psalmist rejoices that God will not allow his holy one to see corruption (Psalm 16:10 ). Isaiah speaks of the earth casting out the dead and Daniel prophesies that those who sleep in dust shall awake (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2 ). Throughout the intertestamental period, the belief in the future resurrection and glorification of the body became even more developed (1Enoch 20:8; 22:13; 2Baruch 50:3-4; 2 Maccabees 7:9,36 ).

New Testament The essential corporeality of human existence is supremely set forth in the New Testament. The incarnation is God's ultimate endorsement of the physical body ( Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35; Romans 1:3; Galatians 4:4; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 4:2-3 ). Complete redemption means the reclamation of humanness in the most comprehensive sense, and this mandates the "in fleshing" of the Word (John 1:14 ). Jesus' body becomes the locus for God's redemptive activity in the world. Indeed his body is both temple and sacrifice in that it manifests the glory of God and atones for the sins of the world (Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; John 1:14; 2:21; Romans 3:24-25; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 2:19,24 ). The physical resurrection of his body not only served as the Father's "amen" to the life and ministry of Jesus, but also as a kind of "firstfruits" of the resurrection of all believers (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 ).

The bodies of the regenerated are also the arena of faith and practice. The primary allegiance of the body is not to the things of this world or to the sinful desires of the flesh (Romans 6:12-23 ). On the contrary, the body is the Lord's and the Lord is to be glorified in the body (1 Corinthians 6:13,20 ). The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19 ). Through the indwelling of the Spirit, the body becomes the place of kingdom expression in this present age. This special presence of God constitutes a community of faith whose identity cannot be confined to this world. In a very real sense, the church is the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 6:15; 12:12-31; Ephesians 4:4-13 ).

All of these things are a proleptic realization of greater glory yet to come. At the second coming, all in Christ will receive a glorified body designed to exist in a heavenly realm (1 Corinthians 15 2 Corinthians 5:1-5; Philippians 3:21; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ). Just as the fall of Adam brought a curse on the earth, the resurrection of the body has consequences of cosmic proportions. The redemption of our bodies ushers in the liberation of the entire creation, breaking the bondage of suffering and death forever (Romans 8:18-25 ).

William A. Simmons

See also Person, Personhood

Bibliography . R. S. Anderson, On Being Human: Essays in Theological Anthropology; G. H. Clark, The Biblical Doctrine of Man; R. W. A. McKinney, Creation, Christ and Culture: Studies in Honor of T. F. Torrance; J. A. T. Robinson, The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology; E. C. Rust, Revep 58 (1961): 296-311; A. A. Vogel, Body Theology: God's Presence in Man's World .

Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Body'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

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