On the Soul and Resurrection (Gregory of Nyssa)

St Gregory of Nyssa. On the Soul and Resurrection. ed. Catherine Roth. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993.

The problem: The soul is either material or immaterial.  If material, it is dissolved with the body. If immaterial, it cannot be contained in the elements of the universe (Roth 15). And if everything has elements, and the soul does not, then the soul cannot be anywhere.

To what degree was Gregory a Platonist?  Let’s ignore the question and highlight just one part: While Plato said the body was a prison, Gregory changes body for “flesh” (sarx), giving it a more biblical feel.

Goal:  To provide Gregory comfort in Basil’s death

The proper view of the soul promotes virtue (Cross Reference to Schaff edition, Nyssa 431).

Nyssa anticipates Leibniz’s law of the identity of indiscernibles:  (x)(y)[(x=y)—>(P)(Px<–>Py)]. In other words, if the soul is something other than these elements, then it isn’t identical with them.

The God-World Relation

God encompasses all things (432).  Indeed, there is a “universal harmony” allowing for “measured intervals.” In fact, “man is a little world in himself and contains all the elements which go to complete the universe” (433).

What is the Soul?

“The soul is an essence created, and living, and intellectual, transmitting from itself to an organized and sentient body the power of living” (433).

Nyssa and his interlocutor bring up analogies between soul, mind, and God (436ff). He does not identify the three but says “one thing is like another.” Prototype and Image.  Despite his reputation, Nyssa rejects the Platonic metaphor of the chariot, choosing rather the “divine axiom that there is no excellence in the soul which is not a property as well of the Divine nature.  For he who declares the soul to be God’s likeness asserts that anything foreign to HIm is outside the limits of the soul (439).

The Condition of the Soul After Death

Hades is the transition to the Unseen world. Macrina is quick to point out that when we say a soul is “in” Hades we do not mean so spatially. In discussing how the soul will be reunited with the body (e.g., the elements), Gregory suggests that the soul is “stationed like a guard over its own” (Roth 68).  That might explain the phenomenon of ghosts, but it doesn’t do justice to the souls being in Abraham’s bosom. Gregory (or Macrina) is aware of that challenge and points out that whatever else is true in the parable, it can’t be about corporeal bodies (since the body is in the tomb).  The gulf, then, is not a physical chasm, but a “barrier which prevents incompatible things from coming together” (70).  It couldn’t be a physical chasm for the obvious fact that a bodiless spirit could easily fly across it!

The Purification of the Soul

Gregory notes that souls that are too attached to fleshly desires retain the form of the flesh after their passing. This might explain the idea of why ghosts resemble their former lives (76).

Macrina divides the souls faculties accordingly: the godlike power is that of contemplation (77).  Indeed, “the accurate likeness of the Divine consists in our soul’s imitation of the superior Nature” (78).

Why is Purification Painful?

It’s painful to remove physical attachments from the soul.  But the nature of virtue should spur us onward.  Gregory notes that “all freedom is one in nature” and “Virtue has no master. Therefore, everything free will be in virtue, for that which is free also has no master” (86).

Transmigration of Souls

Gregory has to cut reincarnation off at the pass, since it seems his Platonic dialogue is moving in that direction. Macrina points out that by going to lower matter in order to be raised up, reincarnation has to have matter purifying the soul.

The Origin of the Soul

Gregory holds to creationism as opposed to traducianism (98).

Christ on Trial (Klaas Schilder)

Schilder, Klaas. Christ on Trial. Trans. Henry Zylstra. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprint 1950.

It’s hard to describe what this book is.  These are *not* Schilder’s sermons.  They are meditations. And while they aren’t strictly exegesis, they remained rooted in the text and the life of Israel, which also means they aren’t allegorical gush, either. While this isn’t the best introduction to Schilder, some of Schilder’s key themes (e.g., Covenant, munus triplex, a titanic war between angels and devils) are here.

“Jesus represents a mysterious priestly essence which, according to the Spirit, incorporates into the true priesthood, and ministers the grace of a priest to all those who know of it by reason of the fact that they are included in the Messiah through faith” (Schilder 23).

When Christ is on trial, he places “the issue of his Office before the spiritual tribunal, for the institution of any office in Israel is messianic in its purpose” (38).

The Covenant God Breaks the Deterministic Circle of Life “Under the Sun.”

We need a personal, covenant God to rescue us from the type of picture that the author of Ecclesiastes says about “life under the sun.”  In other words, redemption must come from beyond nature.  “If God does not become the covenant God, if God does not become Father, if the Almighty does not say ‘I am Jaweh,” if the voice of general revelation is not drowned out by the thundering approach of special revelation, then the rashness of the weary-circuit rider of time will ever again deal the blow against God’s own Son” (64).

Schilder describes the end of Christ’s life as  “maschil,” a riddle of intentional concealment.  A maschil is a testing, “proving designed to give him an opportunity to say what he wants” (81).

Schilder has the best comments on predestination ever put to paper: “God never gives a human being a prophecy about his future perdition.  Predestination is God’s warfare against fatalism, and the preaching of it is that also.  For he has also predestined the fact of responsibility.  No one is ever told that his perdition is absolutely certain, and that he lies under the irrevocable judgment of a hardening of heart.  Such an announcement , certainly, would dull the predestined awareness of responsibility.  In fact, it would break down predestination” (105).

Later on he notes that “election means calling, privilege implies task, to may is to must” (379).

“Even less is this God a ‘being’  who lives only in the hearts of men.  No, this God of Daniel is united with the world and with the sea of men in an abiding covenant” (143).

On Common Grace

“Hereafter every man is duty bound to conform himself not to common but to special revelation.  Hereafter any prophecy derived from common grace unattended by a sincere desire for special grace is but a rejection of Christ into the vicious circle of this hopeless life” (152-153). Common grace can never be abstracted from Christ’s judicial office (533).

While there isn’t an apparent structure to this book, it is there.  Christ ascends the “mountain” and in his recapitulates the three offices (314ff). 

Covenant hearing: “We human beings must grow in attention, must develop in the capacity for and the act of hearing.  The river bed along which the stream of revelation is slowly driven must be worn deeper and deeper in our inner life” (200).

Schilder elsewhere hints at an eschatology, though he never develops it.  He sees history as an “age-old conflict between the world empire and the people of revelation” (224). He identifies Rome with the horn of the beasts of Daniel. He specifically says Antichrist will spring from this horn (321).

Like many Dutch Reformed in the early 20th century, Schilder is very attuned to the titanic war of spirits that is being played out.  He writes, “If we really had eyes to see that invisible world in all of its movement and life, it would have our undivided attention…He, especially, who lets the Holy Scriptures have their say in this matter will direct the attention of his soul to these spiritual forces in the air” (244, 245).

Commenting on the confrontation between Christ and Herod, Israel and Esau, he writes that “The Bible knows that there is such a thing as a spiritual communion which inheres in successive generations” (373).  He is coming very close to saying something like “bloodlines” and “generational curses.”

On Allegory: since modern day allegory is purely subjective, it is a profanation to God’s word (266).

Speaking of the shedding of blood and the crucifixion, Schilder makes a few modern-day applications.  “The church has become lax in its dogmatic thinking” by allowing groups of “mystical poets and artists–first by permission, later by request” to control the aesthetics.  Indeed, he laments a “so-called spiritual eroticism…which prefers to accentuate the blood of Jesus rather than His soul, His soul rather than the hidden powers which inhere in him as the Christ” (511).

Of course, Schilder holds to the blood of Christ, but not as a merely artistic fetish.  From here he makes a fascinating point which should be obvious but I’ve never heard anyone say it: His blood had to be shed (so far, so good). The obvious conclusion: for the soul (or life) is in the blood (513). 

He then adds that the circulation of blood won’t be part of man’s perfected state. He connects the circulation of blood with the urge to eat and procreate.  The circulation of blood remains within the vicious circle of “life under the sun.”

Notes on Heiser’s Unseen Realm, 2

My opening notes here.  A problem with the Sethite reading.

PART 4: YAHWEH AND HIS PORTION

Chapter 16: Abraham’s Word

Throughout the Abrahamic narrative, Abraham “sees” the Word.  Visible Yahweh thesis; Two Powers in Heaven.

Chapter 18: What’s in a Name?

Yahweh tells Moses that he will send an angel and put his Name in the Angel. The Angel will be able to forgive sins (Ex. 23.20-22). “The Name” (Ha-Shem) is a Person (Isaiah 30.27-28; Psalm 20.1, 7).

Chapter 20: Retooling the Template

Believing Israel: God’s Earthly Council

The 70 elders of Israel were a contrast to the corrupt elohim of the divine council (the 70 nations of Gen. 10).

Isaiah 24:23–Yahweh will punish the host of heaven, in heaven. Aside from God’s nuking a few stars, the only plausible reading is God’s punishing the beney elohim.

Rev. 4-5: 24 elders surround God’s throne.  God will replace the corrupt elohim by loyal members of his own family (155ff).

Paul’s logic in Romans 4: Abraham would be the father of many nations, yet the nations besides Israel were then under the domain of the corrupt elohim.

Eden and Sinai

The divine council, which Daniel 7 later on calls a “court” for judgment, mediated the law (Acts 7:52-53; Heb. 2:2).

Chapter 22: Realm Distinction

Holiness and Sacred Space

Azazel.  While it could mean scapegoat (Lev. 16.8), it is also a proper name. One goat is “for Yahweh” and another is “for Azazel.”  The parallelism demands the latter be a proper name (176). The priest isn’t sacrificing to Azazel; rather, Azazel is getting what is his: sin.  Realm distinction and cosmic geography go hand in hand.

PART 5: CONQUEST AND FAILURE

Chapter 23: Giant Problems

nephilim

Go watch the movie “The Fallen Ones.” Yes, it’s terrible but the opening scene is fairly accurate

However the Israelites would have interpreted Gen. 6, it is certain they wouldn’t have demythologized the text.

Does Matt. 22:23-33 rule out the supernatural view? The Bible tells of angels physically interacting with humans. Some considerations:

  1. This text never says angels can’t have sexual relations. It just says they don’t.
  2. Nevertheless, Genesis 6 isn’t the spiritual realm, so the situation doesn’t apply.
  3. This event is far less radical in what is required of a belief than the Incarnation.
  4. The actions in Genesis 18-19 are physical actions (eating food, taking hold of Lot, etc.).
  5. In Genesis 32:22-31 Jacob wrestles with an elohim and the elohim can be touched and in return physically harm Jacob.
  6. Everyone believes angels can speak, yet on this objection how can an incorporeal being produce sound waves?
  7. Angels open doors (Acts 5:19)
  8. They hit the disciples (Acts 12.7).

Nephilim after the flood

Chapter 24: The Place of the Serpent

800px-Mt._Hermon_from_Manara(GllSprng_319PAN)

Israel will face two enemies in the Holy Land: descendants of the Nephilim and those under the dominion of foreign gods.  The former had to be annihilated. The descendants of the Nephilim are related to the Rephaim (Num. 13:11, 20).

Chapter 28: Divine Misdirection

The OT didn’t have a concept of a dying and rising maschiach.  If it did, and if it were obvious, Peter wouldn’t have rebuked Christ for suggesting that.  Christ wouldn’t have had to explain it on the Emmaus Road. It was veiled because if the powers of the world understood it (1 Cor 2), they wouldn’t have put Jesus to death. “Even the angels didn’t know the plan” (1 Pet. 1:12).

Chapter 29: Rider in the clouds

Daniel 7: Divine Council

Cloud rider: in the ANE, someone who rode the clouds was divine (Ugaritic Baal Cycle; Ps. 104:1-4; Isaiah 19:1). Daniel 7 adjusts this in a way: the one who receives this title is someone alongside Yahweh.

PART 7: THE KINGDOM ALREADY

 

Chapter 32: Preeminent Domain

Matthew 16.  There is a connection between Caesarea Phillipi and “Gates of Hades.”  It is the Bashan Mountain region, close to Mt. Hermon. Caearea Phillipi was also called “Panias,” a sanctuary to Zeus and Pan (cf. Eusebius).

Mt Hermon was considered the gateway to the realm of the dead (cf. n15).

israel-2011-267

Chapter 33: A Beneficial Death

Bulls of Bashan

Matthew 27 parallels Psalm 22.

Bashan is the realm of death and Hades.  Also see Amos 4. Amos’s calling the women “cows of Bashan” isn’t simply Amos going on thot patrol. It could very well be that the cows themselves are deities in the form of idols. The Hebrew words dallim and ebyonim are also in Psalm 82.

The Fall of Bashan

Mountain of Bashan/God in Psalm 68 should be translated mountain of gods, since it is immediately contrasted with Mt. Zion.  It wouldn’t make any sense if they were the same: why would the mountain look upon itself with envy?

Chapter 35: Sons of God, Seed of Abraham Gog, Magog, and Bashan

  1.  Gog will come from the heights of the North (Ezek. 38:15;39.2).  The invasion is in a supernatural context. Heiser writes, “The Gog invasion would be the response of a supernatural evil against the Messiah and his kingdom” (364).

Opening notes on Heiser’s Unseen Realm

This study outline is kind of like a middle east targum.  It is combination paraphrase/outline. For a general idea of this type of thinking, see the following

Satan’s Psy Ops.

unseen realm

God’s Entourage

Job 38.4-7 identifies the heavenly host, the morning stars, with the sons of God (Heiser 23). He isn’t saying that the stars are little gods.  He is simply noting that there are moving entities “up there” in the heavenly realm.

divine council

Angels aren’t exactly the same thing as the beney elohim, as the former are lower-level messengers.

God’s Household

Layered authority: high king → elite administrators → low-level personnel.  Psalm 82 is the clearest example in the OT (25). The first Elohim in 82:1 is singular, since it has a singular verbal form (stands).  The second is plural, “since the preposition in front of it (“in the midst of”) requires more than one.”

Chapter 4: God Alone

Divine Beings are not human

The divine beings in 82:1 can’t be the Trinity, since God says they are corrupt.  It can’t be human, since Jewish elders weren’t given authority over the nations (28). Further, God’s divine council is in the heavens, not on earth.

Other biblical passages:

  • Job 1.6: the beney elohim came to present themselves before God.
  • Judges 11:24; 1 Kgs 11:33.  Gods of other nations
  • Dt. 32.17; demons (shedim)
  • 1 Sam. 28.13; the deceased Samuel
  • Gen. 35.17; angels or Angel of Yahweh.

Plural Elohim Does Not mean Polytheism

Would any Israelite believe that these Elohim were on the same ontological level as Yahweh?  The term elohim is not a set of attributes–that would be polytheism. It means an inhabitant of the spiritual world.

Are They Real?

Dt 32 seems to imply they are. If you believe in the reality of demons, then these elohim/shedim (v. 17) are real.

The “denial statements” (no God besides me) don’t mean that they don’t exist.  Similar language is used of human cities (Is. 47.8 and Zeph. 2.15), yet Nineveh and Babylon aren’t the only cities that exist (34).

What’s the point of even saying God is greater than these elohim if they don’t exist?  It’s like saying, “Among the beings we all know don’t exist, there is none like Yahweh.”

Idols: the ancient world didn’t seriously believe the idol was real, but that demons inhabited them (1 Cor. 10:18-22).

What About Jesus?

Does this mean Jesus wasn’t the only divine Son?  Monogenes doesn’t come from mono + gennao, but from mono + genos (class kind).

As in Heaven, So on Earth

Image/imager: If Gen. 1:26ff doesn’t refer to the Trinity but to the divine council, this doesn’t mean we are created by other Elohim. The following entail:

  • Both men and women are equally included
  • Divine image bearing is what makes us distinct from animals.
  • We either have the image, or we don’t.  It isn’t incremental.

We normally define image of God in the following ways:

  • Intelligence
  • Reasoning
  • Emotions
  • Communication
  • Sentience
  • Language
  • soul/spirit
  • Conscience
  • Free will.

The problem with the above class is that animals have some of these, too (41). The problem with “soul” (nephesh) is that animals also have a nephesh (Gen. 1.20).

The key to the image of God is in the Hebrew preposition in. In English “in” can mean location or result of action.  In Hebrew we are created as God’s image. It is not a capacity we have but a status (42). Klaas Schilder said the same thing.

God’s Two Family Household Councils

We are created to function as God’s imagers on earth.  But God also created administrators for the unseen realm.

Gardens and Mountains

That the image of God is a status, not a set of attributes, is evident from the fact that we are to take dominion over creation, making earth an Eden.  

Key idea: God decrees his will and leaves it to his administrative household to carry out those decrees (1 Kgs 22; Daniel 4:13, 17; 23).

Only God is Perfect

Key idea: The worldview of the biblical writers was ‘Where Yahweh is, so is his divine council” (54ff).

Who is the Satan in Job?  Heiser suggests he is the prosecutor within the divine council (56).

Peril and Providence

Key idea: divine foreknowledge does not necessitate divine predestination (64).

PART 3: DIVINE TRANSGRESSIONS

Trouble in Paradise

Argument:  The serpent (Nachash) is a substantival adjective.  He is a serpentine being. This bothers people for some reason.

Why wasn’t Eve afraid of a talking snake, if we take the story literally?  Eve was in the garden, which was the meeting place between the heavenly realm and earth.  She knew she was talking to an elohim. Ancient man knew that animals really couldn’t talk.

Another common sense observation: if the enemy in the garden was a supernatural being, then he wasn’t a mere snake.

Ezekiel 28: the prince of Tyre considers himself an el, who sits in the moshab elohim.

Verse 10: why does God tell him he will die the death of uncircumcised strangers?  He is (presumably) a Phoenician and would be uncircumcised anyway (77). The answer: he is sent to the underworld where there were uncircumcised warrior-kings (Ezek. 32.21; 24-30; 32; Isa. 14.9). This is the place of the Rephaim.

He leaves the garden of God and goes to the underworld. Is the prince a serpent?  He is “shining” and “radiant.”

Even the claim that God said the snake will “eat dirt” doesn’t mean Nachash was a real serpent.  Heiser writes, “The nachash was cursed to crawl on its belly, imagery that conveyed being cast down (Ezek. 28.8; 17; Isa. 14.11-12, 15) to the ground.  In Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14, we saw the villain cast down to the ‘erets, a term that refers literally to dirt and metaphorically to the underworld” (91).  Anyway, snakes don’t actually eat dirt.

The Nephilim

The Sethite thesis doesn’t make sense out of the language of Jude and 2 Peter 2.  

Daniel 4 describes one of the holy ones of Yahweh’s council as a “Watcher.”

Divine Allotment

God scattered the nations in Gen. 11; Deut. 32:8-9 describes it as disinheriting.

Key idea: God gave ownership of the Table of Nations to the divine council (113). Deut. 4:19-20 makes this clear. Psalm 82 judges these elohim for doing a bad job, and then urges God to rise up for he shall inherit the nations.

Cosmic Geography

David’s dilemma: 1 Sam. 26:17-19; David thinks if he is forced to leave Israel, he will leave Yahweh’s inheritance (117).

Naaman asks for dirt (2 Kgs 5): Naaman views the holy land as holy ground.

Daniel and Paul: Dan. 10. In acts 17:26-27 Paul says that God determined not only the boundaries of the old world, where they could blindly search after God.

The LXX in Daniel 10 refers to the “prince” (sar) as an archonton.  Other Greek translations even older describe both Michael and the enemy as archons, which matches Paul’s language of the rulers of this age (1 Cor 2:6, 8) in the heavenly places (Eph. 3.10).

Heiser then draws the following conclusion: Paul’s terms–principalities/arche, powers/exousia, dominions/kyrios, thrones/thronos–are terms that are used of geographical domain rulership (121).