Although many theologians have drawn indelible conclusions regarding the body and soul in context of their ontological and spatial states, an examination of extant research reveals that discourse on the topic is still being shaped by new theories. In detailing his own understanding of the matter, Erickson proposes a conditional unity model which affirms that 1) we have bodies and souls 2) the immaterial aspect of the person will be separated from its material component at death and 3) the resurrection will result in the reunion of the soul with a new and perfected body that may resemble-but does not replicate-the attributes of the old physical form. When one considers this theory in context of the biblical passages he uses to legitimate it, the validity of Erickson’s view becomes plain.
To fully understand the signification and import of Erickson’s views regarding conditional unity, one must have a thorough definition of the phrase. In defining the term, Erickson states that conditional unity is the belief that “the normal state of a human is as a materialized unitary being” (555). Here, Erickson accedes to the notion that each human has one body in which their immaterial aspect resides. He goes on to categorize this state of existence as a “monistic condition” (555), meaning that the soul is contained within a body. At death however, this monistic condition is undone as the material aspect of the human breaks down while her or his immaterial dimension remains. Following death, the human will be resurrected and physically reconstituted with a new body. This is Erickson’s conditional unity theory.
As made evident by his commentary on the subject, Erickson deems his conditional unity theory sound, logical. In analyzing the theory, he discusses how the body and soul are defined in the Old and New Testament. Referring to the Old Testament, he notes that the text regards the human as a unity. He then notes that the New Testament gives birth to body-soul terminology, but goes on to point out that these references do not express or parallel the idea of disembodied or embodied existence. To prove this point, Erickson references Jesus’ contrast of body and soul in Matt. 10:28, where the body and soul are contrasted but not distinguished as separate entities. Despite this textual ambiguity regarding the body and soul, Erickson argues that there is a transcendent or spiritual aspect of humans that is “separable from material existence” (555). He notes that this mode of existence-an intermediate state in which the human lives consciously between the spheres of death and resurrection without a body-is an incomplete ontological reality referenced in scriptures such as II Corinthians 5:2-4. In those passages, the apostle Paul discusses how believers groan to escape containment in a “tent” (v. 2), our human bodies. Desiring rather our “heavenly dwelling” (v. 2), Paul states that we want to be clothed with something that swallows up mortality with life. In interpreting this scripture and the two verses that follow it, Erickson defines them as a reference to an intermediate state involving “personal conscious existence between death and resurrection” (555). He goes on to reference a time when this intermediate state will be displaced by a resurrection in which the human will receive a perfected body. To legitimate his claim, Erickson cites I Corinthians 15. Although he doesn’t reference specific passages in the text, readers know that verse 21 affirms the reality of resurrection and verses 38-44 discuss the human acquisition of a new and ideal body following the resurrection.
When one grasps Erickson’s references and interpretations of II Corinthians 5:2-4 and I Corinthians 15, his rationale for accepting the validity of the conditional unity argument becomes plain. In summation, Erickson believes the aforementioned verses lend credence to his theory because they affirm each component of it. Specifically, the notion that humans have bodies and souls can be inferred through both passages. In addition to this, II Corinthians 5:2-4 can be interpreted as an outline of the intermediate state between death and resurrection in which these material and immaterial aspects of the self are separated. Finally, I Corinthians 15 clearly indicates that the bodily resurrection will culminate in the acquisition of a perfected physical form. Thus, Erickson’s conditional unity theory-while debatable-can be rendered biblically sound.
Coogan, Michael. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998. Print.