A Guide to Understanding the Bible by Harry Emerson Fosdick
Harry Emerson Fosdick was one of the most eminent and often controversial of the preachers of the first half of the twentieth century. Published by Harper & Brothers.in many editions in the 1930s. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Chapter 2: The Idea of Man
The development of the Old Testament’s idea of man involves two main matters: first, the relationship of the individual to his social group, and second, the nature of the individual within himself. Using modern terms, we should say that the Bible records a development of thought about human nature in both its sociological and psychological aspects.
The Old Testament’s early idea of man in his social relationships could be inferred on a priori grounds from the early Biblical idea of God. The conception of Yahweh as a tribal deity, caring for his clans as a group and warring against other clans as groups, implied not simply a theology but a sociology. At this level of thought, the individual man was submerged in his tribal relationships. Human beings, one by one, did not stand plainly out as having separate importance or rights. The social fabric was everything and in it the separate threads were barely distinguishable items.
Even such a comparison does scant justice to the absorption of the individual’s meaning and value in the meaning and value of his tribe. We habitually think of persons, one by one, as the constituent elements of society, and we regard the social whole as made up of their enforced or voluntary blending. The primitive mind, however, in the Bible as elsewhere, thought of the social group -- family, clan, tribe -- as the original and creative fact, the continuous reality from which individuals came, to which they inseparably belonged, and apart from which they had no meaning, status, or rights. The center of worth lay not in persons, who conferred worth on the group, but in the group, which gave to persons any significance they might possess.
This presupposition is so diverse from our thinking that only with difficulty can a modern mind grasp it. With us the social organization exists, or ought to exist, to serve persons; to the primitive mind persons existed as phases of the group and their meaning lay primarily in group functions. Indeed, no early Hebrew ever would have distinguished thus between the tribe as a whole and individuals as separate entities so that he could have discussed which was prior or which existed for the other. Even in his unconscious assumptions he was totalitarian. When, therefore, we think of the development of social consciousness as a distinctively modern gain, we have reversed the actual historic process. Mankind’s early eras were dominated by social consciousness; to a degree difficult for us to imagine, the tribe was all. The shaking loose of the ordinary individual from this identification with his society until, as a personality, he had worth, rights, and hopes of his own, was a supreme achievement.
This submergence of the individual in the social group has been called ‘corporate personality’ and the name accurately indicates the nature of the fact. Personal life among primitive peoples was rather the tribe’s possession than the individual’s. It was the tribe that corporately had plans and purposes, suffered or prospered, was punished or rewarded by the god. To be sure, the individual shared in all this, had his vivid experiences and interests as a part of it, was doubtless on occasion independently rebellious and aggressive. Moreover, while the vivid stories of the Hebrew patriarchs and their dealings with God are largely legendary, they doubtless represent a fact always true in any era, that outstanding personalities have outstanding experiences. Nevertheless, in primitive society the abiding entity was conceived to be the social group as a whole rather than its individuals.
One of the unintentional cruelties sometimes practiced by the United States Government in dealing with American Indians has sprung from failure to understand this contrast between primitive and modern culture. To a notable degree even yet, the unmodernized Indian’s life is corporate, and the individual exists only in his tribal relationships and functions, so that when the Government, even with good intentions, has tried to serve the Indian on a different basis, taking him away from home for education, discouraging old folk-ways as heathenish, assuming individualistic thinking in his treatment, the result has commonly been the disintegration of the Indian’s life. He could not make the adjustment swiftly enough. The chief meaning of his existence had lain in group relationships, group functions, and group purposes. He had not even pictured himself as a personality separate from the group. Treated individualistically, therefore, he felt like a branch cut from the tree; his life was gone. To him the continuous tribe was the abiding reality of which he was a phase.
That the Old Testament’s thinking began with such corporate personality is plainly indicated in the record. The early social life of Israel was centered in the patriarchal family. The master fact in the experience of the people was blood-kinship, first in the household, whose head was alike priest, owner, and judge, and then in the wider circle of clan and tribe, traced back to some progenitor whose blood was supposed to flow in the veins of all. Whatever social solidarity existed depended on the coherence of these family groups. If outsiders were admitted into the tribal relationship, they were conceived as assuming blood-brotherhood. The members of the tribe were not primarily individuals; they were the offspring and representatives of one kindred; because of that they existed, and in that they found life’s meaning. They did not make the tribe but the tribe made them, and the consequent obligations of loyalty and sacrifice were absolute. They lived, yet not they; the tribe lived in them.
In general such social organization was everywhere the background of the early Hebrew records and its illustrative evidences are unmistakable.
I. Vengeance was a tribal obligation. If any wrong was done to a member of the blood-brotherhood, every member was in duty bound to take up the feud. "The one great obligation upon all the members of a tribe or clan," writes Dr. John Peters, "was to avenge the shedding of the blood of any member of that tribe or clan.’’ (John Punnett Peters: The Religion of the Hebrews, p. 62.) Vengeance might, indeed, be individual, as it was represented to be in Lamech’s case, although probably a tribal experience was the source of the ancient folk-song:
. . . I have slain a man for wounding me,
Far beyond individual retribution, however, the duty of vengeance was an affair of social solidarity. The wrong of one was the wrong of all within the blood-brotherhood, as when Abram took to himself the harm done to his brother. (Genesis 14:14-16.) The entire tribe was in a sense a single personality, which, hurt anywhere, resented it everywhere.
2. This vengeance was directed, not necessarily against the individual who had done the wrong, but against the whole family, clan, or tribe to which he belonged or against any single member of it, however innocent himself. Far from thinking it unfair to visit on an innocent man retribution for a deed he had not done, it seemed then the essence of justice that any or all members of a kinship-group should suffer for wrong done by one of its members. As late as David’s time, when a devastating famine was blamed by the oracle on Saul’s slaughter of the Gibeonites, two of Saul’s sons and five of his grandsons, entirely innocent, were put to death and their bodies hung up "before Yahweh." (II Samuel 21:1-14.) When in the ninth century Jehu’s revolt avenged the death of Naboth, not only were the perpetrators of the deed, Ahab and Jezebel, slain, but also their sons. (II Kings 9:24-26; 10:1,7-11[cf. I Kings, chap. 21]) That is, the individual, submerged in his blood-brotherhood, had no separate rights of his own; a sin committed by one man was conceived as committed by all his kin and all were as liable to vengeance as was the guilty person.
3. This principle of vengeance was, as well, a basis for sober judicial action, as the Code of Hammurabi shows. Written at the latest between 1955 and 1913 B.C., this code of Semitic law reveals basic ideas and particular applications so akin to later Hebrew legislation that either direct influence or, more probably, a common heritage is indicated. According to Hammurabi, if a builder had constructed a house so poorly that it fell and caused the death of the occupant’s son, it was not the builder, but the builder’s son, who was to be killed; (The Code of Hammurabi, sec. 230, translated by Robert F. Harper, p. 81.) and if a woman’s death was caused in a particular way by an evil man, not the man but his daughter was to be slain. (Ibid., sec. 210, p. 77.) Such applications of the law of retaliation in terms of a family’s solidarity would have been completely at home in early Hebrew thought. In the Old Testament not cruelty but well-considered judicial procedure, based on blood-brotherhood, was responsible for the wholesale destruction of a family in punishment for the sin of a single member of it, as in the case of Achan. (Joshua, chap.7.) His special iniquity, hiding a portion of the devoted loot of Jericho, was in Yahweh’s eyes -- so the story runs -- the sin of the whole people, and on the whole people Yahweh’s anger fell. So, too, the leaders of Israel saw the sin of Achan not as his alone but all his family’s, and on his family as a whole the death penalty was executed.
4. So profound and serious were these ideas of solidarity through kinship, together with their accompanying conceptions of justice, that they were read up into theology. The familiar passage where Yahweh calls himself "a jealous God" and threatens to visit "the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me," (Exodus 20:5.) has been commonly interpreted as an ancient prevision of the hereditary results of sin. That interpretation is an anachronism; the passage really represents tribal justice, in accordance with which the sin of one involves in guilt and penalty the entire kinship-group to which the wrongdoer belongs. Not heredity but corporate personality explains Yahweh’s far-flung punishments upon even the great-grandchildren of his enemies; it was the whole tribe that sinned in any member’s sin and it was the whole tribe that suffered. The total social group was conceived as an active and responsible agent, and, so far as justice in our modern sense was concerned, the individual did not stand out distinctly enough to have separate status.
5. Still another evidence of this early totalitarianism is presented in the absolute ownership of its members by the group. Jephthah, for example, was the baal, the owner, of his entire household, both property and persons. On that basis he had the right to ‘devote’ to Yahweh by oath "whatsoever [marginal translation,
"whosoever"] cometh forth from the doors of my house to meet me." (Judges 11:30-40.) When it turned out to be his daughter, her doom was sealed. She had no rights of her own as a separate personality, just as Iphigenia had no rights when Agamemnon, for the tribe’s sake, needed a sacrifice to allay the wrath of Artemis.
One important consequence of this complex of ideas associated with corporate personality appears in the Old Testament’s conception of atonement. Substitutionary atonement, where one suffers in place of others and clears them by bearing the penalty that they deserve, is in view of modern ideas of justice to the individual an immoral outrage. But modern ideas of justice to the individual were not in the background of the Old Testament’s thought, and nowhere in the Bible does ‘atonement’ mean what modern theologies, presupposing modern legal systems, have made it mean. The basis of Biblical ideas of substitution -- one bearing the sin and penalty of all -- was corporate personality, where in deepest earnest the sin of one was regarded as being the sin of all, the punishment due to one as being due to all, and the sacrifice of one, as in the case of Jephthah’s daughter, as being offered by all. Biblical ideas of atonement root back in this basic soil and stem out from it; and while the development later carried them to branches far distant from the roots, there is no understanding the topmost twig -- for example, "as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" -- (I Corinthians 15:22.) without reference to this origin.
When in unmodernized areas of Chinese life today, the legal authorities, unable to capture the real culprit in a felony, seek his son instead to be punished as his substitute, the same ideas and customs are evident with which the Old Testament began. The clear visualization of individual personality as in itself and for itself worthful and significant, with rights and hopes of its own, came only after a long development of life and thought.
6. This early absorption of the individual in the social group is made clear in the Old Testament by the further fact that, at the start, there was no such experience as would be called now ‘personal religion.’ Religion was of tremendous and penetrating import; nothing was proposed, undertaken, or done, even in what we would call secular affairs, without reference to the divine powers; but all this was a public, tribal concern rather than an inward, private experience. This had been true of Semitic religion, in general, long before the distinctive Hebrew development began. "It was not the business of the gods of heathenism," wrote W. Robertson Smith, "to watch, by a series of special providences, over the welfare of every individual.... The god was the god of the nation or of the tribe, and he knew and cared for the individual only as a member of the community." (Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, pp. 258, 259.)
That this held true at the beginning of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh is revealed in the narratives of Sinai. Moses, as representative of the tribes, dealt directly with Yahweh, but the individual tribesmen, earnestly as they desired the god’s favor on the group and willingly as they might perform all necessary acts to secure it, wanted nothing intimately to do with the god himself. They were commanded not even to touch the mountain where he dwelt; and, as for their own feeling, Yahweh was so fearful in their eyes that they begged he might not speak to them directly in their assembly lest they die. (Exodus 20:19.)
At the beginning of the development of the Old Testament, therefore, individual personality was largely submerged in the social mass. The fact of sin and the assurance of punishment, the sense of wrong and the practice of vengeance, the ideal of justice and the power of religion -- all were operative forces but no one of them primarily concerned the individual; he came under their sway mainly as a member of the community.
The major factors that caused the break-up of this original solidarity and the emergence of the individual into personal worthfulness and meaning can be, at least in outline, seen and described.
1. The passage from nomadic to agricultural life, and so out into the commercialized town life of Palestine, inevitably encouraged a growing individualism. Tribal solidarity, especially in the desert, exists in large part because it is demanded by the situation. The social arrangements of nomadic clans must of necessity be collectivist. The individual cannot escape his incorporation in the group and his never ending dependence on it; it is the master fact of his experience; his whole life, apart from his most intimate bodily aches, pains, and delights, consists in the shared life of the group. Having seen an Arab chieftain’s son, who had attended the American University in Beirut, make his decision between the old nomadic life of his clan, still living in tents, and the new town life which his education made possible, one vividly understands that, choosing the former, he inevitably chose submergence in the social solidarity of his group as against emergence into the individualism of a commercial community.
The very fact, therefore, that the Hebrews conquered Palestine, settled in towns, developed private property in land, broke up into economically unequal classes, chose various crafts and businesses, and, as the centuries passed, became part of the diversified international civilization of their day, meant of necessity the gradual diminution of the old tribal cohesion and its associated ideas. The individual in every aspect of his life -- economically, socially, intellectually, morally -- was increasingly thrown on his own as his nomadic forefathers never could have been. Without this underlying social factor, the emergence of the Bible’s later evaluation of the individual is not conceivable; with it the way was opened for powerful forces to operate in shaking personality free from its complete incorporation in the group.
2. One of the most evident forces working to this end was the growth of moral and religious nonconformity. In a completely tribal organization of society nonconformity was intolerable. The welfare of the whole group, and especially the favor of the divine powers, were thought to depend upon unanimous respect for tribal customs and taboos and unanimous performances of religious rites. A single man’s moral defection, as in Achan’s case, or a single family’s refusal to follow the leader, as in Korah’s jealousy of Moses, (Numbers 16:1 ff.) might bring down on all the group the divine disfavor. Corporate personality, therefore, involved moral and religious uniformity, with the least possible allowance for original thought and action.
Such uniformity, however, never easy to maintain, was impossible amid the moral and religious conflicts into which the new civilization of Canaan and the new worship of the baals plunged the Hebrews. Choices of profound importance had to be made, not only by clans and tribes as a whole, but by minority groups and individuals, and nothing more imperiously calls out the sense of personal worth and dignity than the exercise of moral choice. At this point the prophets, demanding ethical and religious decisions, achieved not only direct results deliberately sought but an indirect result full of future consequence -- they put a premium on nonconformity.
Beginning with Elijah on Carmel, clearly distinguishing Yahweh from Baal and crying, "How long go ye limping between the two sides? if Yahweh be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him," (I Kings 18:21.) the prophets, explicitly appealing to the people as a whole for decision, implicitly involved in their appeal a challenge to the moral competence of individuals. The messages of Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah, while addressed to Israel as a whole, demanded decision and action on the part of the Israelite, and this appeal to intellectual discrimination and ethical choice involved a consequence more important than the prophets probably guessed.
Isaiah, for example, based his hope for Israel not on Israel as a whole -- Israel as a whole was too corrupt and disobedient -- but on a righteous "remnant." For the first time in our religious tradition, this prophet stated the doctrine of salvation by a minority. The nation as a whole could not be saved -- only the purged and righteous portion of it. (Isaiah 1:24-31; 10:20-23.) The saving power lay not in the total group but in the true Israel within Israel, "the church within the church." The prophet named his own son, "A remnant shall return [i.e., to Yahweh]," (Isaiah 7:3[marginal translation.]) and looked to his band of disciples, his spiritual offspring, as the hope of the future. (Isaiah 8:16-18.) In a word, he might be said to have formed the first ecclesia, the earliest church, called out from the doomed majority to be a redeeming minority. In this true Israel within Israel, Isaiah saw the vital seed of the nation’s hope -- "as a terebinth, and as an oak, whose stock remaineth when they are felled; so the holy seed is the stock thereof." (Isaiah 6:13 [The final phrase was possibly written by a later hand.]).
Of this insurgent independence Isaiah’s own life was an illustration. He belonged to the ruling class in Judah but he refused to be a partisan of its class interests. He attacked its misuse of prerogative, denounced its social iniquities, vigorously championed the cause of the impoverished, and became in consequence an object of hostility and ridicule. Once, when he came upon a drunken scene, probably in connection with the temple sacrifices, where priests and prophets, as he says, reeled with wine and staggered with strong drink until the tables were full of "vomit and filthiness," he was greeted with the intoxicated jeers of the people’s religious leaders: "Whom will he teach knowledge? and whom will he make to understand the message? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts? For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, there a little." (Isaiah 28:9-10.) That is to say, his drunken adversaries imitated baby-talk as a caricature of the prophet’s teaching,
Saw lasaw saw lasaw
Kaw lakaw kaw lakaw
Zeir sham zeir sham.
It was because he found himself and his followers in so despised a minority that he wrote his message down that some future time might vindicate his truth against his gainsayers. "Now go," Yahweh commanded him; "write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever. For it is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of Yahweh." (Isaiah 30:8-9.) Out of such moral insurgence and nonconformity grew the emerging sense of personal worth among the Hebrews.
When, in the century after Isaiah, the prophetic movement, cherishing the faith and morals which the nation as a whole had deserted or had failed to reach, came to explicit expression in the reform under Josiah, (II Kings 23:1-25.) it necessarily involved an appeal to individual courage and cost the break-up of kinship-groups. Of this we have an illustration in Jeremiah. His loyalty to the prophetic party and to his own profound insights cost him such enmity from his own clan, whose prestige and perquisites were being hurt, that they plotted his death. (Jeremiah 11:21-23.) When the later Judaism saw in retrospect this conflict between prophetic ideals and popular religion, it was clear that the social solidarity of the nation had been on the wrong side of the issue and that Jeremiah, in his courageous and sacrificial isolation, had been right. In this regard the Bible records a significant reversal of moral values. Whereas at first nonconformity within the tribe had been an intolerable sin, it now became a necessary virtue. Unanimity with the group as a whole had been at the beginning the sine qua non of Yahweh’s favor; now such submergence of moral conviction in the majority’s opinion seemed to the real devotees of Yahweh to be supine apostasy. To stand with the solidly coherent group had been at first both ethics and religion; now neither ethical excellence nor the highest religious loyalty was possible without standing out from the group. And along with this appeal to, and response from, the moral competence of individuals had gone an increasing emphasis on personal rights and duties and a general collapse of old ideas associated with solidarity. It is no accident that Deuteronomy, which sums up the ideals of the pre-Exilic prophetic party, contains an explicit denial of the ancient theory that an innocent person can rightly be punished for another’s sin: "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin." (Deuteronomy 24:16.)
3. Powerful as were such pre-Exilic influences -- the rise of a complex civilization and the moral demand for nonconformity -- it was the Exile itself that forced the issue of individualism. So long as social solidarity existed as a fact in Israel and the national group was still coherent, traditional ideas of social solidarity were bound to persist. When, however, the temple was destroyed, the Holy City razed, and the Jews scattered from Babylonia to Egypt, a new and powerful influence was injected into the situation.
Jeremiah represents this influence at work in his own personal experience. Loyal to the prophetic movement of his day, his ideas at the beginning of his ministry were at one with Deuteronomy and the reform under Josiah. His clear foresight, however, soon outran the superficial success of the reform and previsioned the ultimate downfall of the nation. This forced upon him, first in his inner experience and then in his message, a profound deepening of his religious ideas. His own life was lonely -- "I sat not in the assembly of them that make merry, nor rejoiced; I sat alone because of thy hand.’’ (Jeremiah 15:17.) A sensitive and conscientious man, who to his own grief foresaw the destruction of his nation and could not prevent it, he was hated by his people for his foreboding and thrown inward upon his own soul for his resource.
As a result, he made one of the supreme contributions in man’s spiritual history to the significance of the individual as the religious unit. He was "loyal to the royal" in himself at a time when social solidarity was rapidly disintegrating. He never ceased caring primarily for the nation, but, if he was to sustain his private integrity and his public prophethood, he was compelled to fall back on God in secret and to find an inner temple when the outer temple was destroyed. That he did this is evidenced in many passages that reveal his intimate, inward struggle with God and reliance on him. "O Yahweh, thou knowest; remember me, and visit me.... Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy words were unto me a joy and the rejoicing of my heart. . . . O Yahweh, my strength, and my stronghold, and my refuge in the day of affliction" (Jeremiah 15:15,16; 16:19.)-- that is personal religion.
No factor has been more closely associated with the sense of individual dignity and worth, whether as cause or consequence, than such personal faith. When God was conceived as caring only for the tribal group, only the tribal group was conceived as worth caring for, while the thought of God as the patron and lover of individuals was inevitably associated with the thought of individuals as clearly visualized centers of value. The experience of a personal relationship with God, of which Jeremiah was one of the creative forerunners, thus made an incalculable contribution to the emergence of the individual from the mass. Moreover, this experience with God, while in part dependent on factors of intimate temperament, was accentuated in, and urged upon, needy souls by the removal of all outward props for religion in temple and cult and by the break-up of the nation. For two generations the Jews were forced to a more personal concept of religion in order to have any vital religion at all.
The Jews, therefore, outgrew the original narrowness of their tribal ideas of God, not only, as we saw in the last chapter, because of a new extensiveness of vision in the direction of an international faith, but also because of a new intensiveness of experience in the direction of an individual faith. In the end, Yahweh was no longer a tribal god in the old sense of caring solely for the social group; he was a personal god as well, in the sense of caring for and bringing interior sustenance to individuals, one by one. Out of this new dimension in Israel’s experience came such hymns of the post-Exilic temple as the 139th Psalm:
O Yahweh, thou hast searched me, and known me.
Obviously, any individual who thus could speak had emerged from absorption in the group into personal self-consciousness and self-respect.
4. Along with this change in the nature of religious experience, until instead of being a circle with its single center in the tribe it became an ellipse with the nation and the individual for its two foci, went a profound change in moral strategy. After the Exile, as before it, the saving of the nation, whether for its own sake or for the world’s, was for all the prophets the ultimate goal. But the sin from which the nation needed to be saved was more and more located within the lives of individuals, and the hoped-for salvation was increasingly seen to depend on individual transformation. Here too, Jeremiah, following the tradition of Hosea and Isaiah, played an important role. He traced national evil back to its ultimate sources in the thoughts and attitudes of persons. If the social group as a whole was sunk in iniquity, the reason lay deep in the quality of the group’s constituent individuals -- "The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9.) If on the social group as a whole Yahweh’s wrath was falling, the punishment was an inevitable consequence of the way individuals were thinking -- "Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts". (Jeremiah 6:19.) And if salvation was to come, the only hope of it lay in the interior cleansing of the people’s spirit -- "O Jerusalem, wash thy heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thine evil thoughts lodge within thee?" (Jeremiah 4:14.) While, therefore, as always, national reformation was the desired end, a significant deepening was going on in estimating the conditions which would make that possible, and ever more clearly it was seen that no national reformation could be permanent without individual regeneration. (E.g., Jeremiah 31:31-34.)
5. Under such influences as these, the social mass lost its indiscriminateness and the constituent persons emerged into clarity and importance, until the ideas of justice associated with the old social solidarity became intolerable. Men, one by one, now had status, each in his own right, and the sense of equity, no longer satisfied by mass judgment on mass sin, demanded fair play for every individual. The innocent ought not to suffer for the guilty; each should stand on his own feet and be responsible only for his own deeds -- such flat denial of the ideas with which the Old Testament started now became the express teaching of the later Judaism.
Of this new doctrine Ezekiel was the most uncompromising spokesman. This is the more notable because Ezekiel was the advocate of a restored church state on Zion, and was one of the most effective forces in reestablishing the social structure whose breakdown had encouraged individualism. He was far from being as profound a soul as Jeremiah, but in his youth he had been under Jeremiah’s influence and he carried through to a logical extreme the doctrine of individualism that the older prophet had encouraged.
The old orthodoxy, born out of tribal solidarity, Ezekiel could not tolerate. That one should suffer penalty for another’s sin or for the group’s sin as a whole seemed to him essentially unjust. So thoroughgoing was his revolt that he swung to the opposite extreme and in his individualism became a veritable atomist. No punishment from God, he taught, ever leaks through from a guilty man to an innocent, even in the intimate relationships of the family; each is penalized exclusively for his own iniquity. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.’’ (Ezekiel 18:20.)
This extreme statement of the case was called out from Ezekiel by the situation in Babylonia. The exiled Jews were blaming their disaster on their fathers. Unwilling to assume responsibility for the sin that had caused the nation’s downfall, they found their defense mechanism in ascribing the guilt to their ancestors. "The fathers have eaten sour grapes," they said, "and the children’s teeth are set on edge." (Ezekiel 18:2.) Such refusal to accept responsibility for the crisis was so easy a method of avoiding obligation in the crisis that Ezekiel found in the ancient orthodoxy, according to which one suffers for another’s sin, a dangerous stumblingblock to the nation’s reconstruction. If the earlier prophets had been forced to appeal to individuals for decision, even more was Ezekiel constrained, amid the disintegration of the nation, to arouse individual minds and consciences and to gather a responsible and convinced minority. He launched his attack, therefore, against all excuses for evading obligation and especially against the doctrine that God rewards and punishes men in masses. That never happens, the prophet taught. God deals with individuals, one by one, and each receives the just recompense of his own deeds:
What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord Yahweh, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right . . . he shall surely live, saith the Lord Yahweh.
If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood. . . he [the son] shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.
Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father’s sins, which he hath done, and feareth, and doeth not such like . . . he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live. . . .
Yet say ye, Wherefore doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right . . . he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. . . .
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord Yahweh. (Ezekiel, chap.18)
It is difficult to imagine a more emphatic statement of thoroughgoing individualism or a more explicit denial of the old doctrine that Yahweh visits "the iniquity of the fathers upon the children." (Exodus 20:5.) So extreme was the statement that it rose later to plague Judaism. Taken by itself, without the balancing truth contained in the idea of social solidarity, Ezekiel’s teaching was no adequate account of the facts. Men do not stand, one by one, like bottles in the rain; rather, like interflowing streams, they share their fortunes. The consequences of personal goodness and badness are not confined to the individual; they spill over through multitudinous channels into other persons and into society at large. Ezekiel’s extreme doctrine of individualism, therefore, far from settling the question, started a controversy which Judaism never finished, as is plain in Job’s unconquerable doubt of divine justice to individuals, and Ecclesiastes’ scornful denial of it.
While, however, Ezekiel’s words, as now recorded, overstate the case by a wide margin, he made a necessary contribution to the emergence of personal rights. The individual now stood clear of the mass, an object of divine care, reward, and punishment, and never afterward could Judaism lose sight of him as one indispensable focus in the religious ellipse.
6. Partly as a consequence of this rise of interest in individuality, and partly as a cause of deepening concern with it, came belief in the resurrection of at least some persons from Sheol, the land of the dead. Obviously, men could not pass through the experience of death and out again into a resurrected life in masses; death in any generation is not like a wide thoroughfare but like a turnstile, through which men go one by one. The emergent belief in resurrection from Sheol, therefore, both sprang from and reacted upon the increasing importance of personality. Even when life after death was a very vague hope, held by only a few, scornfully denied by some, supposed to affect only a selected group of saints and sinners, (E.g., Daniel 12:2.) the fact that the possibility of resurrection was in Judaism’s thought incalculably heightened the importance of personality. To some, at least, it had become so worthful that God cared for it intimately, dealt with it separately, and would preserve it eternally. This influence on the increasing sense of individual importance was heavily accentuated between the Testaments.
When one passes from the Old Testament into the New, one finds Christian thinking, in this regard as in every other, rooted in the prophetic tradition. One factor, however -- the complete separation between church and synagogue -- made possible to the early Christians a much more unimpeded treatment of the individual soul as the religious unit.
However much original insight and thought may have contributed to the high estimate of personality that is one of the chief characteristics of the New Testament, the fact remains that, until religion was disentangled from nationalism, the full meaning of personality could not stand clear. Judaism, in the centuries between the Exile and the coming of Jesus, was inextricably identified with a special race and a special national state. Indeed, after the Exile, nationalism and racialism came back with a vengeance. The evils endured by the returning exiles, the need of uncompromising separateness if they were not to be assimilated and lost, the bitter resentment aroused by the cruelty of Hellenistic and Roman conquerors, constrained Judaism not only to social solidarity but, in Palestine especially, to extreme racial, national, and religious particularism. While, therefore, the lessons of the prophets, far from being forgotten, bore fruit in great examples of personal piety, the prophetic tradition could not break through to its logical conclusion -- religion as a free, individual choice, regardless of race or nation.
To be sure, from the days of the Exile on, the majority of Jews lived not in Palestine but in foreign lands, where they were played upon by alien customs and ideas, and in such a situation continued fealty to the ancestral faith was far more a matter of individual choice than it was in the homeland. Thus, among the dispersed Jews, as Dr. George Foot Moore writes, "The older ideas of national solidarity were supplemented and to some extent superseded by personal responsibility.’’ (Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, Vol. I, pp. 224-5.) It is true, therefore, that universalistic tendencies in Judaism outside Palestine were emerging, that proselytism was active, that a relaxation of ritualistic and legalistic requirements was in process, that men of other races and nations were being drawn to the synagogue by Jewish monotheism and morality, and that profound changes were taking place in certain areas of Judaism under Hellenistic influence. Nevertheless, whatever loosening of religious demands or of theological orthodoxies may have taken place among dispersed Jews, Jewish nationalism continued unabated, and not until the highest levels of the prophetic teaching had been released from it could religion become a matter of free, personal choice, determined not by racial stock or national allegiance but by individual conviction
In the Old Testament taken as a whole, the controlling and creative factor is the social group. This is the abiding reality from which individuals spring and in loyalty to which they find their meaning. In the New Testament taken as a whole, while the church is always in the forefront of attention, the dominant, creative factor is individuals. They are the primary participants in religious experience; they are the unit of value; the social group, the church -- while it is conceived to be in unbroken continuity the true "commonwealth of Israel’’ (Ephesians 2:11-12.) -- is produced and sustained by their freely chosen, cooperative fidelity; and entrance into God’s kingdom, whether on earth or in heaven, depends on personal quality. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this shift in emphasis. The Old Testament starts with social solidarity so complete that the individual has practically no rights, and achieves at last profound insight into the meaning, worth, and possibility of personal life. The New Testament starts with personalities as in themselves supremely valuable, and conceives the "beloved community" in terms of their free cooperation and the social hope of the kingdom of God the crowning evidence of their faith and loyalty. The opportunity to try this significant experiment in an inter-racial, international religion of converted individuals was given to the early Christians and indeed was forced upon them by Judaism itself when it drove them from the synagogue.
While, however, this disentangling of the Hebrew-Christian tradition from its incorporation in a special race and state provided the indispensable setting for a religion of free, personal choice, the influence of Jesus himself is needed to explain what happened. He himself never broke away from Judaism, but he did, like a greater Jeremiah or Ezekiel, carry the principle of individuality into the forefront of his faith. He found the center of all spiritual values on earth in personal lives and their possibilities. "Jesus Christ," says Harnack, "was the first to bring the value of every human soul to light.’’ (Adolf Harnack: What is Christianity? translated by Thomas Bailey Saunders[2d revised ed., 1912], p.73.)
By whatever road one approaches the message or ministry of Jesus, one finds this factor dominant and determining.
1. In the religious experience which Jesus wished to share with his disciples, inwardness was an essential quality. He was unashamedly subjective in his description of vital religion’s nature. At its creative center was an intimate personal relationship with God; (E.g., Matthew 6:6.) its ethical fruitage came from rightness of interior disposition; (E.g., Matthew 7:16-20.) nothing outward, however worthy in itself, could be a substitute for such goodness of character and motive. (E.g., Matthew 6:1-4, 5-15, 16-18.) In this Jesus was the fulfiller of Jeremiah with his emphasis on "thoughts of naughtiness" (Jeremiah 4:14 as translated by S.R. Driver: The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, p. 24.) as the source of outward evil and on regeneration of spiritual quality as the basis of social reformation. (Cf. Matthew 15:19-20.) In the Jewish law, three of the main areas of legislation concerned murder, adultery, and perjury, and in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus took pains to trace all three back to intimate, personal dispositions revealed in "the angry word, the lustful look, the evasive formula." (H. Wheeler Robinson: The Christian Doctrine of Man, p. 94. Cf. Matthew 5:21 ff.) Such inwardness is inexplicable save as one sees Jesus taking the principle of individuality in thorough earnest and conceiving the religious life as rooted inside persons, one by one.
2. Along with this went Jesus’ faith in the moral competence of personality. Granted his vivid recognition of the disastrous individual effects of evil social conditions, it still remains true that he believed in the ability of persons to resist environment and rise above it. He appealed confidently to man’s capacity for moral choice. Repent, he said -- that is, change your mind -- in the assurance that despite outward conditions men could do that if inwardly they would. It was within the power of the Prodigal Son to say, "I will arise and go to my father"; (Luke 15:18.) it was within the power of the sinful woman to "go . . . sin no more". (John 8:11.) In Jesus’ thinking, God was so committed to the support of right choices that the divine resources could be counted on by all who threw their wills on the right side. Thus the primary center of ethical decision was within the individual, and like Ezekiel Jesus would have resisted any person’s endeavor to evade responsibility for his own conduct. In this regard he was fulfilling the prophetic tradition and would have agreed with the writer of the Apocalypse of Baruch: "Each of us has been the Adam of his own soul." (II Baruch 54:19.) In consequence, his moral appeal was habitually directed to individual consciences and his moral blame was visited on refractory wills. Personalities stood out, clearly visualized in his imagination, and one by one he called them, even while in the world, not to be of it.
3. Along with this went Jesus’ use of ideas and language drawn from the family. In his religious heritage, fatherhood, motherhood, marriage, sonship, and brotherhood had been familiar descriptions of divine-human relationships. Nevertheless, when the Old Testament refers to God’s fatherhood, it is almost always Israel as a whole rather than the individual Israelite that is the son, (E.g., Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Hosea 11:1-3; Jeremiah 3:4, 19; cf.Isaiah 1:2; Deuteronomy 1:31.) and when in a few instances individuals are referred to as sons of God, it is either Israelites in general (E.g.,Hosea 1:10.) or their Messiah (E.g.,II Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7; 89:26.) in particular that is intended. While, therefore, as we have said, (Chap. I, p.37.) the divine fatherhood in the Old Testament is personal as well as national, it remains true that in the Hebrew Scripture the idea that God’s fatherhood, whether of nations or of persons, extends beyond the borders of Jewry is nowhere explicitly stated. The universality of God is typically expressed by calling him "a great King over all the earth," (Psalm 47:2.) but his fatherhood is spoken of as the prerogative of Israel and the Israelites.
Few factors were as influential in Jesus’ teaching as the seriousness with which he appropriated from his Old Testament heritage these home relationships as symbolizing divine-human kinship, and the insight with which he enlarged and deepened this use of the family. The home was normative in Jesus’ thought of God and man. The divine fatherhood, true religion as filial relationship with God, God’s cosmic goodwill to all his children whether deserving or not, (Luke 6:35-36; Matthew 5:45-48.) God’s undiscourageable care for each child, however wayward, (Luke, Chap. 15.) the ideal of human relationships as a social order where the principles of the family shall be universalized --all such conceptions, familiar in Jesus’ teaching, go back to the home for their rootage and sustenance. "The family," wrote Professor George William Knox, "is by nature the social unit, and Jesus makes its terms dominate the whole series of his conceptions.’’ (The Gospel of Jesus the Son of God, An Interpretation for the Modern Man, p. 65.)
Now, the family is the one social group, so far developed in human history, in which each personality is of essential value. In a good home, no matter how many children there may be, each possesses individual status and rights, and in the eyes of all the rest has separate and inalienable meaning and worth. This conception characterized Jesus’ outlook on mankind. His was the astounding faith that, in this regard, the attitude of a good home could be carried out into an evil world. His view of man, therefore, is throughout conditioned by the family and, in consequence, each person is regarded as a child of God, possessing intrinsic value.
4. Along with this went Jesus’ conviction that moral destinies, here and hereafter, are personal affairs. One of the major factors in concentrating attention on the individual has always been faith in some form of immortality. Between the Testaments this belief became the assured conviction of those Jews who belonged to the dominant school of the Pharisees, and in Jesus and the Christian community after him this confidence rose into triumphant certainty.
Immortal destinies, however, are individual affairs. To be sure, under the influence of social solidarity, Hebrew hopes of the future were in the beginning centered on an undying nation upon earth, but when hope outgrew this early stage and resurrection from Sheol became a Jewish expectation, it took of necessity the form of an individual return. While at first the individual was pictured as returning to join the undying and triumphant nation on the earth, still the door, once opened to personal hope, could not be closed and the future world involved promise of individual, heavenly destinies. In the light of eternal life in its developed forms, even the most cohesive national solidarity tends to disintegrate. One need not surrender a primary loyalty to one’s own race, but one tends to spiritualize the meaning of one’s race, to teach, for example, as Jesus did, that to be a true son of Abraham is a matter of moral quality and that God could out of the stones of the field make Abraham’s sons, if the lineal descendants of his flesh proved false. (Matthew 3:9.)
In the New Testament, beginning with Jesus himself, the projection of personal destinies into the future world plainly accentuated the importance of the individual and made souls the objects of solicitude and the subjects of salvation. Exhortations to flee the wrath to come and promises of eternal life were alike addressed to individuals. In this regard the indirect results of the rising faith in immortality seem at times as important as the substance of the faith itself.
5. Of one piece with this thorough acceptance of individuality in Jesus’ teaching was his faith in the care of God for persons. The contrast here between the beginning of Israel’s development and the outcome in the New Testament is clear. Jesus’ God was primarily the father of souls, whose will it was that not "one of these little ones should perish,’’ (Matthew 18:14.) whose joy it was to see one sinner repent, (Luke, chap. 15.) whose intimate care could even be symbolized in such terms as numbering the very hairs of our heads. (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:6-7.)
This idea is so emphatic in the Gospels that it can easily be interpreted as individualistic in a narrow and imprisoning sense. As a matter of fact, the result of it was not confining but liberating; up this road early Christianity moved into a universal gospel. For if God is conceived as caring for persons as persons, and so in the end as caring for personality everywhere, no boundaries of state or race can be thought of as circumscribing his relationship with souls. Far from being individualistic in an imprisoning sense, Jesus’ exaltation of the worth of personality was an open road toward the universality both of his God and his gospel.
This is clear when one interprets Jesus’ thought of God’s care for individuals as a reflection of his own life. He himself cared supremely for individuals. There is little chance of exaggerating the fact that the central object of Jesus’ concern was persons, that in personality he found life’s supreme value, that in the possibilities of personality he put his faith and invested his service. He himself thus interpreted the principle of his ministry and the secret of his divergence from current orthodoxy. (Matthew 12:11-12; Mark 2:27.) So caring for persons, he found it impossible to stop caring when faced with the artificial boundary lines of race or nation. He cared for a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13.) and for a Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37.) The logical outcome, therefore, of his type of individualism was universalism, with the center of value and the object of devotion shifted from special race or nation to personality wherever found and within whatever social group in corporated. This is an historic paradox of the first importance -- Christian universalism came out of Christian individualism. To this day the national and racial prejudices which disgrace Christendom are due to the failure of Christians to care so supremely for personality that no boundaries can confine their sense of its value.
6. Far from being a denial of such emphasis on individuality or even a limitation of its meaning, Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God was of one piece with what we have been saying. Jesus’ message certainly was not individualistic in the sense that he put souls over against God’s universal and consummated sovereignty, as though he cared for the first and neglected the second. Rather, the primary element in his preaching was the proclamation of the coming of God’s righteous reign, but both the motive and the meaning of his faith in that new order of life were inseparable from his care for personality.
In Jesus’ thought the divine kingship is here already, to be acknowledged in the doing of God’s will. God’s sovereignty a present reality to be sometime consummated in his universally acknowledged reign -- such is the meaning of the ‘kingdom’ in Jesus’ teaching. God is sovereign now de jure; sometime he will be de facto. To identify this transcendent hope with the temporal details of a new social order on the earth is to miss its full significance. Belief that the eternal sovereign would assert his universal sway in a new realm of righteousness required more superhuman and inclusive factors than any social reform could supply. Nevertheless, this coming reign of God involved the ending of social wrongs, and it is of importance to note that, so far as the records reveal, Jesus’ concern about social iniquities always sprang from his indignant perception of their ill effect on individuals. The victim of the bandits on the Jerusalem-Jericho road, (Luke 10:30-37.) the widow mistreated by an unjust judge, (Luke 18:2-6[cf. Mark 12:40.) the unfortunates on whom publicans like Zaccheus practiced extortion, (Luke 19:2-10.) the destitute at a rich man’s door, (Luke 16:19-31.) prisoners unvisited and hungry folk unfed (Matthew 25:42-43.) -- always it was wronged individuals who called out from Jesus a social message. To him the greatest of evils was represented by personality mistreated and unfulfilled; the greatest of good was represented by personality released into abundant life. One cannot imagine any picture of the kingdom, satisfying to Jesus, that did not involve this fulfillment of personal life. He doubtless conceived the method of the kingdom’s coming in apocalyptic terms, as a dramatic overthrow of the earthly status quo by a heavenly invasion, but the meaning of the kingdom to him was centered, not in the victorious supremacy of one race and nation. but in the conferring of abundant life on human beings.
Passing from the ministry of Jesus into the New Testament as a whole, one finds the principle of individuality uncompromisingly stated. The teaching of the Master in this regard fitted, as hand in glove, the practical situation that the early Christians faced. Whether expelled from the synagogue or won over from Gentile faiths, they perforce became Christians as individuals. Moreover, the intrinsic value of the human soul was made central in their thought, not only by the teaching of the Master but, even more, by the doctrine of the church concerning him. Christ died for every man (II Corinthians 5:14-15; Hebrews 2:9.) -- that conviction put the capstone on the arch. Each soul was lifted into inestimable worth as being the object of divine sacrifice. Loved of God, died for by God’s Son, carrying in itself eternal destinies, the human soul became far and away the most valuable reality with which human life and thought could be concerned. To use Browning’s phrase, in the thinking of the New Testament, "thy soul and God stand sure." (Robert Browning: "Rabbi Ben Ezra.")
Climactic though this is, however, to the special development we have been tracing, human life is far too complicated to be comprehended by an individualistic formula. No sooner had early Christianity thus carried the insights of great prophets, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, through to their logical conclusion, than it found itself facing the profound and inescapable truths involved in social solidarity.
I. For one thing, the early Christians, stepping out from old social groups, were at once compelled to begin building a group of their own. The New Testament clearly reveals with what insistent certainty, as one decade followed another, the church took an ever more central and important position in the experience of Christians. Converted individuals they were, to be sure, but they found themselves engaged with increasing concentration on the task of creating a fellowship. In this "beloved community "their faith was kindled, by its consensus of opinion their thinking was directed, and in its mutual encouragement they gained stimulus and stability. Even within New Testament times, the church became the body of which individual Christians were organic members. (I Corinthians, chap. 12.)
Indeed, at this point we stand in danger of misrepresenting what went on in the mind of an early Christian like Paul. Basic in his thought was the unbroken continuity between the old dispensation and the new. As Martin Luther, aware of the abrupt transition he was making, was even more convinced that his movement, far from deserting Christianity, represented the true Christian church, so Paul conceived his gospel as the fulfillment of the Old Testament and believers in Jesus Christ as the true Israel. In his thinking, therefore, there was no break in the continuity of the social group; the church was God’s true people, inheriting the promises and carrying on the great tradition of Israel. For this idea he had support in the ancient prophetic conception of a faithful and saving remnant standing out from a disobedient and apostate people. "Even so then, "he wrote, "at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace." (Romans 11:5.) To Paul, therefore, the church was the continuation of the assembly of Israel, in which the eternal purpose of God was being worked out and whose head was the Messiah. (This idea underlines such passages as Galatians, chaps. 3-4; Romans, chaps. 9-11; Colossians 1:1-23.)
Even the very early Christians could thus conceive themselves as children of the church rather than as its creators. New though it was, in a deeper sense it was old and out of its long accumulated heritage had come the gospel they professed. So started a development of thought that later led to the declaration that the church is the mother of all to whom God is the father. The priority of the social group over the individual naturally returned. The church could discipline its members, expel heretics, command assent. (E. g., I Corinthians, chaps. 5-11.) According to Paul, not only did Christ die for every man, he died for the church. (Ephesians 5:25.) This group consciousness, accentuated by persecution from without, rose to such power and became so central in the thinking of Christians that, in the First Epistle of John, the test of genuine faith and life is love of the Christian brethren. (Cf. I John 3:14.)
To suppose, therefore, that the New Testament disciples, carrying to high fulfillment the principle of individuality, escaped the problems of social solidarity is to misread the situation. They met those problems on the new level of an inter-racial, international fellowship entered by free personal choice, but all subsequent Christian history bears witness to the fact that the adjustment between society and the individual, both within the church and out of it, still remained one of the most crucial problems of mankind.
2. Moreover, by no manner of emphasis upon the importance of individuals could early Christians escape, any more than we can, the towering evils of society at large. To be sure, their hope of a "new heaven and a new earth’’ (Revelation 21:1.) was cast in apocalyptic molds. By a divine invasion of the world, stopping history in mid-course and suddenly inaugurating the new age, God, not man, would bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. In the meantime, salvation was individual, not social. Paul never dreamed of gradually saving the Roman Empire; he gloried in saving souls out of the Empire, persuading them to turn "from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven." (I Thessalonians 1:9-10.) Protected by this apocalyptic hope from any sense of obligation to reform society, New Testament Christians concentrated attention on individual quality. The end of the world was at hand, and in view of this ultimate and swiftly approaching judgment day, personal readiness to meet it was the main desideratum, and personal morals fit to meet it were described in terms of the highest idealism. As Professor Alfred Whitehead puts it: "The result was that with passionate earnestness they gave free rein to their absolute ethical intuitions respecting ideal possibilities without a thought of the preservation of society." (Adventures of Ideas, p. 19.)
Protected from undertaking the reformation of this present world, therefore, by its apocalyptic faith in the divine invasion soon to come, early Christian individualism ran headlong into the danger of being as unbalanced on its side as the ancient Hebrews had been on the side of social solidarity. Moreover, this danger was accentuated when Christian thought and Greek thought coalesced. The human soul as the supreme reality next to God was no discovery of Hebrew or of Christian faith. That idea was an organic part of the Platonic philosophy. "For six hundred years," writes Professor Whitehead, "the ideal of the intellectual and moral grandeur of the human soul had haunted the ancient Mediterranean world." (Ibid., pp. 17-18.) It is no accident that Platonic philosophy and the Christian religion readily discovered common ground, and that, in particular, Platonic ideas of the sublimity of the human soul were assimilated by Christian doctrine. Moreover, the Greek mystery religions, the influence of which on certain areas of the New Testament seems clear, were primarily means of personal salvation out of this world into the present possession and the future assurance of eternal life.
So difficult is the achievement of balance in human thought and experience that one sees even the Bible moving from an original sense of social solidarity, lacking adequate recognition of individuality, to a sense of the value of the single human soul, in danger of lacking adequate consciousness of social obligation. It is at this point that Christians should feel profoundly grateful for the Old Testament and for the persistent effect of its great prophetic tradition. From the days of Marcion in the second century, certain Christians, troubled by the anthropomorphisms of the early Old Testament and by the immoralities attributed to Yahweh, have discredited the Hebrew books and have even wished to drop them from the Christian Bible. The fact is, however, that not only is it impossible to understand the New Testament without the Old, but that the New Testament alone presents an incomplete statement of the range of moral obligation.
The reason for this is patent. No Christian writer of the New Testament, so far as our records reveal, ever faced the responsibility of applying high moral principles to preserving the institutions of society, administering governments, handling international relationships, prosecuting social reforms, or even mitigating by public measures the inequities of an economic system. When we have emphasized to the full the immense gains made possible by the separation of the Christian movement from a special national state, we need also to remember that thereby the early Christian movement escaped practical administrative responsibility for the most difficult social problems that mankind faces. With these social problems the Hebrew prophets were continually concerned, and to their solution gave such creative thought that to this day all revivals of social conscience among Christians draw inspiration and direction from them.
Indeed, so integral are the Old and New Testaments to each other and so truly was Jesus a Hebrew prophet in the great succession from Amos and Hosea on, that from the beginning a powerful social conscience was injected into Christianity. In the light of its own records in the Gospels, it never could so individualize its thought as to be satisfied by subjectivism alone. The hope of the
"new earth," whatever the method of its coming, was a revolutionary social expectation. Far from being secondary, it was primary -- the first element in Jesus’ original preaching and the ultimate consummation of the "eternal purpose." Despite all influences to the contrary, it lifted a standard of judgment in the light of which the Christian conscience at its best could not be content with social evil. From its early days, therefore, until the present, Christianity never has been able completely to reduce itself to a circle with one center, the soul; always the great tradition has called it back to be an ellipse around two foci, the individual and society. In this regard the debt of Christians to the Old Testament’s sturdy, realistic consciousness of social solidarity is immeasurable.
As for the New Testament’s special contribution, that too has proved to be of incalculable importance in the history of ideas. It carried to fulfillment a long development of thought, disentangling persons from submergence in the social mass and giving to each one status, meaning, and rights of his own; it concentrated attention on the spiritual value of personality and its possibilities; it created a religion to be entered by free personal choice, regardless of race or nation; it set persons to building a social fellowship for the redemption of souls; and it proclaimed as the ultimate goal of divine creation and human hope the kingdom of God in "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." (II Peter 3:13.)
Accompanying this development of thought concerning the relations between the individual and society, the Bible records another development concerning man’s interior nature without tracing which the first cannot be fully understood. Words, for example, which we have been freely using, such as ‘personality’ and ‘soul,’ require interpretation. They never have had a static meaning and their modern connotations are misleading when applied to ancient thought. Indeed, it requires a difficult tour de force of imagination for the modern mind to grasp the ideas of man’s inner nature characteristic of Biblical religion.
In general it may be said that just as the early Hebrews had never in their thinking broken up the social mass so as clearly to visualize the individual, they never had broken up the individual so as to distinguish between what we should call ‘soul’ and ‘body.’ The primitive mind started with man as he visibly appeared, a physical organism, and even when primitiveness had been overpassed and ideas had begun to move out toward more adequate conceptions, alike the thoughts of men and the words they used moved still on the physical plane.
For example, the idea of soul among the Hebrews, as among early peoples generally, started with the physical breath. The obvious difference between the quick and the dead lies in the presence or absence of breathing. The first ‘soul,’ therefore, that man had was not metaphysical or spiritual but material. So the Latin word for soul is anima -- breath -- from which comes our word ‘animated’; the Japanese word for soul originally meant ‘wind-ball,’ and for death, ‘breath departure’; the Hindu word for soul is atman, from which comes our word ‘atmosphere.’ Similarly, the Hebrew word nephesh may best be translated ‘breath-soul,’ as is clear, for example, in the early story of man’s creation: Yahweh shaped man from dust out of the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, so that man became a nephesh -- that is, an animated being. (Genesis 2:7.)
This intriguing word cannot be translated by any single English expression without doing violence to its original meaning. Probably no instance occurs where ‘breath’ in a purely literal sense is a completely adequate translation; there is another word, neshamah, for that. The meaning of nephesh, however, ranges all the way from a significance difficult to distinguish from physical breath up to connotations clearly spiritual, so that no English word can sweep the gamut, and in consequence our English Versions are commonly misleading. When Elijah complained, "They seek my nephesh, to take it away," (I Kings 19:10.) he doubtless meant ‘life,’ as the Revisers have rendered it; and when the psalmist cried, "Let them be put to shame and brought to dishonor that seek after my nephesh," (Psalm 35:4.) he also meant ‘life’ and not ‘soul,’ in our modern sense, as the translation suggests. When Elijah raised the son of the widow of Zarephath and "the nephesh of the child came into him again, and he revived," (I Kings 17:22.) the rendering would be far more truly ‘breath’ than ‘soul.’ Sometimes the word connoted the seat of emotional life -- "the distress of his nephesh" ; (Genesis 42:21.) sometimes the seat of physical appetite -- "our nephesh loatheth this light bread"; (Numbers 21:5.) sometimes the seat of desire in general -- "whatsoever thy nephesh desireth.’’ (I Samuel 20:4.) But the word also ranged up until it stood for the whole inner life of man: "The law of Yahweh is perfect, restoring the nephesh"; (Psalm 19:7.) "A sojourner shalt thou not oppress: for ye know the nephesh of a sojourner, seeing ye were sojourners in the land of Egypt.", (Exodus 23:9.) Nevertheless, however wide and high its range, the word always kept the flavor of its origin. This first breath-soul of man never involved so clear a discrimination between the physical and the nonphysical that its existence apart from a physical organism was conceivable.
Indeed, the identification of what we call spirit with the material body is clearly seen in the Old Testament, as among all early peoples, in the functions ascribed to the bodily organs. Some eighty different portions of the body are named in the Hebrew books. The brain, strangely enough, is not mentioned and there are no terms for nerves, for lungs, or for diaphragm. Thinking is associated with the heart, not with the brain. (Isaiah 10:7; Matthew 9:4.) In the ancient world in general, such ideas held sway and even Aristotle conceived no function for the brain except to cool the blood. While the Hebrews, however, had only a rough and ready knowledge of bodily functions, they experienced the intimate identification of mental and emotional life with them. A man to them was primarily a body, animated, to be sure, with a breath-soul, but still basically a body, and all his experiences, intellectual and emotional as well as physical, were conceived in bodily terms.
Three organs, in particular, were regarded by the Hebrews as the seats of what we should call psychical activity -- heart, kidneys, and bowels. Of these the heart came, in the end, to have the widest usage and the most abiding importance, so that it has passed over into modern speech and we still symbolize our emotions in terms of it. At the beginning, however, this usage was not confined to one organ, and far from being figurative, it represented the literal thinking of the people.
In the Old Testament the heart is used, as we use it, to express emotional experiences, such as anxiety -- "his heart trembled"; (I Samuel 4:13.) joy -- "the priest’s heart was glad"; (Judges 18:20.) love -- "the king’s heart was toward Absalom"; (II Samuel 14:1.) even intoxicated gaiety -- "Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken." (I Samuel 25:36.) But it is also used to express mental activity, such as meditation -- "Thou shalt say in thy heart"; (Deuteronomy 7:17.) or the achievement of wisdom -- "an understanding heart to judge thy people." (I Kings 3:9.) Even beyond this the word is used to express, as nephesh does, the whole inner life and character -- "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but Yahweh looketh on the heart." (I Samuel 16:7.)
The naturalness of this manner of speech in our usage should not deceive us as to its original meaning. To us it is figurative; at the beginning of our Hebrew-Christian tradition it was literal. The meaning then was not that personality, conceived somehow in metaphysical terms as a soul, had sensations and experiences mediated through or associated with its physical organism. Then the physical organism was the man and the bodily organs were the active agents of experience. ‘The heart’ was not a metaphor for ‘the spirit,’ nor was there any psychological theory to explain that the experiences of the self are associated with organic sensations. All such sophisticated thinking was still centuries ahead. It was the heart itself that felt, thought, desired, and decided. As H. W. Robinson summarily puts it: "The body, not the soul, is the characteristic element of Hebrew personality." (The Christian Doctrine of Man, p. 12.) In a word, the Old Testament began with a thoroughgoing primitive behaviorism.
This is the more easily seen when we turn to the Old Testament’s use of bodily organs other than the heart. So alien to our manner of speech are certain passages that when the bowels, for example, are employed to express love (Song of Solomon 5:4.) or compassion (Isaiah 16:11.) or distress, Jeremiah 4:19.) the Revised Version declines a literal rendering and disguises what the Hebrew says in euphemisms -- ‘heart’ or ‘inward parts.’ In the same way, the kidneys are used as the seat both of discontent (Psalm 73:21.) and of wise meditation, (Psalm 16:7) but in our translations we must turn to the margin to discover that the word rendered ‘heart’ really means ‘reins.’ The Old Testament, therefore, plainly begins with man as a physical being, whose emotional and intellectual life is a physical function.
Indeed, this entirely realistic view of human nature is further shown in the identification of life with blood. Not only loss of breath but loss of blood means death, and this fact was seized upon by the early Hebrews, as by other peoples, as the basis of an elaborate superstructure of religious ritual. The blood was sacred; in the sacrifices it belonged to the god; for a man to partake of it was to break an important taboo. Behind this sanctity of blood in sacrificial ceremonies stood a profoundly influential idea concerning the nature of life: "The blood is the life’’; (Deuteronomy 12:23.) "As to the life of all flesh, the blood thereof is all one with the life thereof." (Leviticus 17:14.) So basically physical was human nature as the Hebrew religion first conceived it.
Moreover, within the boundaries of the Old Testament, the Hebrew religion never outgrew the idea that man’s life is indissolubly associated with his body. This is evident from the fact that when the hope of life after death emerged, it took the form of bodily resurrection. The Hebrews, prior to the days when the Neo-Platonic philosophy affected Alexandrian Judaism, never thought of life after death except in terms of a resurrected body. The Old Testament reflects not at all Platonic teaching about the soul as imprisoned in the flesh and escaping at death to the realm of pure spirit, but rather Egyptian teaching, with its hope of a physical resurrection. What the Egyptians pictured the sky goddess as doing when she raised up the departed, an early Hebrew, beginning to believe in life after death, might have pictured Yahweh as doing: "She sets on again for thee thy head, she gathers for thee thy bones, she unites for thee thy members, she brings for thee thy heart into thy body." (As quoted by James H. Breasted: The Dawn of Conscience, p. 48.) As we shall see in a succeeding chapter, so persistent was this realistic manner of thinking that, however sublimated, it still underlies and is necessary to explain the Jewish-Christian passages on immortality in the New Testament. In Paul’s thought, to be sure, the resurrected body was to be spiritualized; it was to be no longer "flesh and blood," but his desire was not to be "unclothed" in the future world but "clothed upon "with a body. (I Corinthians, chap. 15; II Corinthians 5:4.) The age-long and still influential Christian doctrine of bodily resurrection thus goes back to primitive Hebrew behaviorism, which always conceived soul as a function of the material organism and never, like Greek philosophy, conceived immortality as escape from the imprisoning flesh.
The development that took place in the Old Testament, however, was profoundly important and was achieved in characteristic Hebrew fashion. The Jews in their native estate were not given to metaphysical speculation. Their minds were practical, their interests ethical, their manner of thinking picturesque and dramatic. They did not leap to all-inclusive, abstract generalizations such as one finds in Greek or Hindu philosophy. Whether in working out their idea of God or man, one sees them thinking their way through practical situations a step at a time, and nowhere is this matter-of-fact, realistic method of making progress more evident than in their developing idea of human nature. They neither started nor ended with sweeping generalizations about a metaphysical soul; they simply became more and more concerned with, intent upon, and intelligent about those aspects of human life which we call ethical and spiritual.
One of the most interesting consequences of this is seen in the expanding meaning of one supremely important Hebrew word, ruach. Just as the word nephesh, beginning with a significance difficult to distinguish from physical breath, enlarged its horizons until it came to stand for the interior life of man as a whole, so the word ruach began its career on the physical level. In pre Exilic literature it was used mainly in two meanings: the blowing of the wind and the heavy breathing of men under strong feeling. Which was original is not certain, but probably, in view of its kinship with the word for smelling in Hebrew and some cognate languages, ruach at first signified the heavy breathing of man and later the blowing of the wind as the breath of God. In any case, the word’s usage is closely associated with the more urgent and powerful emotions of men. Anger, (Judges 8:3.) restored vital energy, (I Samuel 30:12.) extraordinary outbursts of strength, (Judges 14:6.) abnormal obsessions of feeling, (I Samuel 16:14-15.) profound grief (Genesis 26:35.) -- such highly emotional experiences were covered by the word ruach. Moreover, it is clear that this range of meaning was suggested by the association of powerful emotion with heavy breathing, and that it came to include both the passions of men and the winds of God. (E.g., II Samuel 22:16; Psalm 18:15; Exodus 15:8; Job 4:9.)
The journey which the Hebrews traveled by means of this word, as they pushed out its significance like an advancing roadway, could not have been foreseen but in retrospect it is clear. As their interest and care centered increasingly on man’s inner life, on spiritual quality and ethical devotion, as the stronger emotions ceased being merely anger or grief and became also penitence, aspiration, moral idealism, and the love of God, the word ruach expanded its meanings to cover the case. It came to represent the interior life of man on its highest altitudes. And because in its origin the word had meant not simply man’s breathing but God’s wind, it became the verbal agent by which man could say that his best life is inbreathed by God -- inspired, as we say, using the same metaphor Latinized -- so that ruach at last meant the Spirit of God inspiring the spirit of man.
To be sure, as is the habit of words, ruach never altogether lost its earlier significance. Both Job and a psalmist used it to mean the breath of life in their nostrils, (Job 27:3; Psalm 104:29.) and Ezekiel in one of his most splendid passages deliberately played on the word’s double meaning as he pictured the spiritual resuscitation of his dead nation: "Thus saith the Lord Yahweh: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." (Ezekiel 37:9.) Moreover, ruach carried other words, such as nephesh and ‘heart’ up with it, so that, as is the way with words, they borrowed meaning from each other and were used together when an emphatic statement of the whole man’s inner devotion was wanted. "With my nephesh have I desired thee in the night," said Isaiah; "yea, with my ruach within me will I seek thee earnestly." (Isaiah 26:9.)
In the end, the loftiest experiences of man’s spirit and the quickening influences of God’s spirit found in ruach their congenial agent of expression. It was by means of this word that the Old Testament rose to its heights, as in the Fifty-first Psalm --
Cast me not away from thy presence;
or in the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah -- "The Spirit of the Lord Yahweh is upon me; because Yahweh hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek." (Isaiah 61:1.) To watch this word grow from meaning ‘wind’ to meaning ‘holy Spirit’ is to watch one of the most significant developments in the Old Testament.
By this method of approach, the Jews never reached, as the Greeks did, a doctrine of a metaphysical soul separable from the body. They laid no speculative foundation for anything that could be called a psychology. They took man realistically as he was -- as we should say, a psycho-physical organism -- and across many centuries profoundly deepened their insight into the supreme meaning and value of his ethical and spiritual life. To them, at their best, this became in practical fact man’s real life. The body was taken for granted as the basic and necessary constituent of a man -- so much taken for granted that there is no special and distinct word for body in the Old Testament at all. But man’s distinguishing characteristic, the core of his being and the meaning of his existence, lay elsewhere -- in his spirit. They had started with the individual as a physical organism animated by a breathsoul; they ended with the individual as primarily a character, his major concern moral conduct, his real value spiritual quality, the source of his power the Spirit of God.
Nowhere is our dependence on the Old Testament for the understanding of the New more evident than in this realm. The early Christians were Jewish in their conception of the interior nature of man and they never became anything else until they fell under the influence of Greek philosophy. In this regard Jesus was a true son of his race. He never speculated about the relations of soul and body or thought theoretically about philosophies of personality. His interest was overwhelmingly ethical. The important discrimination, as he saw it, was not between material and immaterial -- a distinction with which he never dealt -- but between moral and immoral. In so far as this involved the body as a possible enemy of spiritual living, he counseled the utter subordination of the body, saying with characteristic hyperbole that hands and feet were to be amputated and eyes plucked out if they caused the higher life of a man to stumble. (Mark 9:43-47.) He never thought, after the Greek fashion, of soul as pure being, capable of disembodiment, but spoke, as his Jewish contemporaries did, of future life in terms of bodily resurrection, and on that basis he discussed life after death with the skeptical Sadducees, protesting only against the popular, contemporary ways of conceiving the raised body and its uses in the next world. (Matthew 22:23 ff.) In a word, he traveled the same road the Hebrew prophets had surveyed, making a profound ethical discrimination between the higher and the lower man, the inner and the outer man, the spiritual and the carnal man. To Jesus, as to the prophets, a man was a being with two major capacities, moral life and fellowship with God.
The close kinship between the Testaments in this regard is manifest in the very words used. ‘Heart,’ in Jesus’ speech as in the Old Testament, covered man’s interior life: "pure in heart;" (Matthew 5:8.) "Where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also"; (Matthew 6:21.) "Out of the heart come forth evil thoughts"; (Matthew 15:19.) "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." (Matthew 12:34.) This usage in the Gospels reveals the development that had preceded it. Gradually through the Old Testament, reference to bodily organs as the seat of intellectual, emotional, and moral life had ceased being literal and had become metaphorical. Just as truly as Greek philosophy differentiated within the individual between the material body and the immaterial soul, Hebrew religion differentiated between the moral man and his physical organism. Conceiving the two not as separable but as distinguishable, the Old Testament put the emphasis overwhelmingly on the side of mind and character. Of this tradition Jesus was the inheritor and the fulfillment.
In giving expression to it in Christian form, the New Testament uses words that cannot be adequately understood except as Greek translations of the Hebrew. Nephesh became "psyche, carrying over into the Greek word the flavor of its origin. Sometimes it signifies physical life: "They are dead that sought the young child’s psyche"; (Matthew 2:20.) "Is not the psyche more than the food?"; (Matthew 6:25.) "hazarding his psyche." (Philippians 2:30.) But as with nephesh, so with its Greek rendering, the word ranges up into higher meanings which leave English translators in perplexity. "He that findeth his psyche shall lose it; and he that loseth his psyche for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39.) -- there is no adequate English rendering for that. ‘Life,’ ‘soul,’ and ‘self’ have all been tried, but it means more than physical life, less than metaphysical soul, and other than psychologica1 self. One has to come up to it from its Hebrew heritage and feel its significance. So one of the greatest of the sayings of Jesus, "What doth it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his psyche?" (Mark 8:36.) may mean, What good is the possession of the whole world to a man who must die? or, What good is material gain if it cost spiritual loss? or, What good is the ownership of the world for a time to one who pays for it eternally with a forfeited soul? Probably, were Jesus to interpret his own saying, we should find that something of all three entered into its significance. At any rate, there is no understanding the New Testament’s psyche without understanding the Old Testament’s nephesh. In the later Book as in the earlier, the word sweeps the gamut from breath soul, which was its origin, to interior spiritual life and character, which was its culmination. At one end of the gamut is Acts 20:10, where Paul, finding a supposed dead man still breathing, cries, "Make ye no ado; for his psyche is in him"; at the other is I Peter 2:11, where the full spiritual meaning of the term is evident -- "Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul."
As for ruach, that became pneuma, a Greek word which also had started by meaning wind and had come to mean spirit. In the New Testament the word’s old association was not altogether lost --"The wind bloweth where it will . . . so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8.) By this word, in the New Testament as in the Old, the noblest altitudes and attributes of the human spirit and the saving influences of the divine spirit were expressed. Especially was this true of Paul, to whom the essence of Christian living was to "walk not after the flesh, but after the pneuma." (Romans 8:4.)
Indeed, it was in Paul that the development we have been tracing came to its culmination. His distinctive view of man’s interior nature involved a sharp contrast between flesh and spirit. With reiterated emphasis in the eighth chapter of Romans, for example, he sets over against each other "the mind of the flesh" and "the mind of the Spirit." This has been commonly interpreted as the result of Greek influence. Certainly Paul must have been affected by contemporary Hellenism, for no man can use a language as he used Greek without carrying over in the very words meanings and mental patterns from the current thinking out of which the words come. When, therefore, along with phrases like the "old man," (Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9; Romans 6:6.) "the law in my members," (Romans 7:23.) "your members which are upon the earth," (Colossians 3:5.) Paul used ‘flesh’ (Romans 7:18; 8:6; Galatians 5:17.) as representing the seat of sin, some at once suspect the influence of Hellenism, with its immaterial, pure spirit on one side and its material, sinful flesh on the other.
To grant that Paul’s use of ‘flesh’ as the seat of sin was colored by contemporary Hellenism, however, is one thing, and to see Paul as in any important sense a Hellenist is quite another. It has long been recognized, for example, that some relationship existed between Paul and his contemporary, Seneca, the Stoic philosopher. The kinship of thought and language between them is too close in too many instances for any theory of chance to cover the case. (See J.B. Lightfoot: Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, Appendix II, "St. Paul and Seneca," listing similarities of expression, pp. 287-290.) Either there was direct contact between them, which seems improbable, or else they both reflected a common area of contemporary thought and speech. While, however, the similarity between Paul and Seneca in many passages is unmistakable, this does not make Seneca a Christian or Paul a Stoic. All the presuppositions of Paul’s thought were Jewish, and his kinship with Seneca lay either in special phrases, such as ‘Spend and be spent,’ which might easily have been in common vogue, or in large matters like the brotherhood of all men, where Paul shared a universalism long current in the Greco-Roman world. When St. Jerome in the fourth century tried to represent the Stoic philosopher as a Christian, calling him "our own Seneca," (S. Eusebius Hieronymous [St. Jerome]: Adversus Jovinianum, I, par. 49, in J.P. Migne’s Patrologia Latina, Vol. XXIII, p. 279.) he was stretching the matter out of all semblance of truth. But truth is as badly stretched when one sees the fundamentally Jewish Paul as a Hellenistic or Stoic philosopher.
In many Pauline passages one suspects the influence of the world in which as a boy Saul of Tarsus had lived and through which Paul the Apostle traveled widely as a man. He used the phrase
‘the good’ (rò ka^òv) with a Hellenistic flavor; (Romans 7:18; II Corinthians 13:7; Galations 4:18; 6:9; I Thessalonians 5:21.) he appealed to ‘nature’ as standard in a way a Stoic might have done; (I Corinthians 11:14-15) his praise of moderation and his use of ‘virtue’ were in good current form ; (Philippians 4:8.) his employment of the word ‘mind’ was Greek rather than Hebrew; (Romans 7:23,25.) his sense of God’s immediate presence, whether shown in his ideal of being "filled unto all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:19.) or in a quotation from Aratus, "In him we live, and move, and have our being,’’ (Acts 17:28.) was excellent contemporary religion; and his contrast between ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ doubtless gained sharpness from Hellenistic thought.
Nevertheless, in the bases of his thinking Paul was a Jew. When he used ‘flesh’ as the seat of sin he was not, after the Hellenistic fashion, thinking of the material body as essentially evil. Traditional Hebrew that he was, his ultimate ideal was not escape from the body but "the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:23.) Meanwhile, this mortal flesh, far from being essentially evil, was potentially good -- to be dedicated, "your members as instruments of righteousness unto God." (Romans 6:13 cf.Romans 12:1; I Corinthians 6:13,15,19.) If Paul had thought of physical flesh as inherently the source of evil, he could not have; thought of Christ as perfect when incarnate or of demons as wicked when discarnate, and yet he did both. While, at times, he talked as a Greek in setting flesh and spirit in sharp opposition, he always was thinking as a Jew; he was contrasting, not material flesh and immaterial spirit, but the natural man uninspired by the divine Spirit, on one side, and the spiritual man transformed by God’s grace, on the other. ‘Flesh,’ therefore, in Paul’s usage was a metaphor for all the lower, unredeemed side of human nature and, so far from being confined to or even indissolubly connected with the material body, it might, as in the phrase ‘fleshly wisdom,’ (II Corinthians 1:12.) refer to idle speculation, or, in the phrase ‘fleshly mind,’ (Colossians 2:18, 21-23.) to pagan thinking, such as Gnosticism.
All this lights up Paul’s view of man’s interior nature. Man to Paul was a twofold creature. First, as a natural being he was body-plus-soul. This does not mean ‘soul’ as we use it, a synonym for ‘spirit,’ but ‘soul’ in the old inherited sense, which carried its meaning back through the natural faculties of man to his physical life and breath. This animated being, body-plus-soul, was human nature unredeemed; it was simply what the first Adam was, a body with its nephesh. Christ, however, was more than that:
‘The first man, Adam, became an animate being,
To Paul, therefore, the complete man was made possible only when this original body-soul was taken possession of by Spirit, when the divine presence invaded and controlled the "old man" and made him new. First, last, and all the time, Paul’s interest thus was in moral reclamation, not psychology, in salvation, not metaphysics, and his aim was the transformation of men, with their natural faculties of body, mind, and emotion, into spiritual persons. In pursuing this aim he developed peculiarities of thought and phrase. He made a much sharper distinction between soul and spirit than one finds elsewhere in the Bible; he associated soul with flesh and gave flesh an ethical significance quite his own; but all his ideas and verbal usages were instruments for a single purpose the creation of complete persons, body souls redeemed by the Spirit of God.
The difference is obvious between such mental patterns in the New Testament and most of our accustomed Christian thinking. Commonly with us, soul and body are sharply distinguished -- soul, the immaterial, immortal part of man, and body, the material and perishable, with salvation concerning the soul, and death, the soul’s release from its physical habitation. The explanation of this contrast lies in the fact that historic Christian thought in this regard, as in others, has been Greek rather than Hebrew. Claiming to be founded on the Scripture, it has, as a matter of fact, completely surrendered many Scriptural frameworks of thinking and has accepted the Greek counterparts instead. The Christian movement carried out into the Greek world a gospel of individual redemption from sin and death. Not only was the individual lifted out of the social mass, but within the individual a profound discrimination was made between his nature as a mere native of this earth and his nature transformed by the divine Spirit. This gospel of salvation, with its elevated estimate of human worth and possibility, possessed a close kinship with the Greek philosophy. Into the molds of that philosophy it was run, as the classic creeds bear witness, and in this process its ways of phrasing truth were altered, as they have been altered many times since. Within the New Testament, however, the controlling ways of thinking still are Hebrew. While the Greeks distinguished within the individual the immaterial soul from the material body, the Hebrews and the early Christians distinguished the natural man in his sin from the redeemed man, living "not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’’ (I Romans 8:4.)
The two lines of development in the Biblical idea of man, which we have been considering, may be combined and summarized thus:
At the beginning, a physical organism, whose life-principles were breath and blood, whose mental and emotional experiences were the functions of bodily organs, the ordinary man was submerged in the corporate mass of his tribe, without individual status, separate hopes, personal rights, or claim on divine care apart from the group. In the end, an immortal being, endowed with capacity for moral living and divine fellowship, man stood distinct from the mass, possessing in personality the supreme value, having separate status and individual rights of his own, and gifted alike with the privilege of sonship to God and the responsibility of an eternal destiny.
So abstract and general a statement, however, not only oversimplifies the long and complicated process it endeavors to describe but, in particular, neglects the natural human opposition which so high an estimate of personality encountered -- the endless doubts, cynicisms, and denials with which this emerging estimate of man’s value was inevitably met. The futilities and frustrations of human experience in any age are so many and so baffling that it is commonly easier to hold a high faith about God, whom we have not seen, than about man, whom we have. That the Hebrews found this to be the case is evident in their scriptures. The emergent individual, regarded as of intrinsic worth and pos- sibility, was a conception which did not so much solve problems as raise them. As we shall see, (Chap. IV.) some of the most puzzling difficulties which the later writers of the Old Testament faced grew out of the developing sense of personality’s importance. Was life just to individual persons? Did each man receive the fair recompense of his deeds? Did God treat men, one by one, as he might be expected to if he were just and men were valuable? And behind such theological and cosmic questions was always the more immediate, inescapable fact of man’s stupidity, squalor, futility, and sin, seeming to deny outright a high estimate of his worth.
The development which we have been describing, therefore,’ had no easy road to travel. There were doubtless many cynics who shared the opinions of the writer of Ecclesiastes that "man hath no preeminence above the beasts"; (Ecclesiates 3:19.) that it is not even clear "what advantage hath the wise more than the fool’’; (Ecclesiastes 6:8.) and that, in general, no man knows what is good for him "all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow." (Ecclesiastes 6:12.) The candor of the Old Testament in expressing not only its emerging faith but, as well, its cynicisms and denials, is in this realm clearly exhibited. The Hebrews suffered tragically at man’s hands; they were under no optimistic illusions about man’s natural quality; just as, against all the plausibilities, they asserted their profoundest faith in God when they were a defeated people in exile, so they wrought out a positive, triumphant faith in man, although they knew, as few peoples in history have ever known, how cruel man can be. Some Old Testament passages still reflect the moods that in multitudes of individuals must have opposed the rising faith in personal worth and possibility --
I loathe my life; I would not live alway:
Moreover, the Hebrews felt, as thoughtful men have always felt, the difficulty of holding a high estimate of man’s worth in the face of the vast cosmos which is his dwelling. While the immense universe, humbling man into diminutive insignificance, was far smaller in early Hebrew eyes that it is in ours, still, then as now, stars were visible and man’s imagination felt the disparity between the cosmos and the human individual. Frail, tenuous, and temporary was man’s hold even on existence -- "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?" (Isaiah 2:22.) He is as transient as the grass; (Psalm 123:15.) he is but flesh, "a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again." (Psalm 78:39.) Above man’s littleness and ignorance the universe towers overwhelmingly, so that one who takes true account of its marvels will cry, "I abhor myself." (Job 42:6; see also Job, chaps.38-42.) It was not because the Hebrew failed to feel this mood of insignificance and transiency that he wrought out his faith in man. In the same psalm he mingled confidence in human greatness with the sense of mystery that in a universe so vast man should count for so much:
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
Despite the size of the cosmos, two elements in human nature seemed to the Hebrew more significant and more indicative o f ultimate reality than all the outer framework of the world -- man’s capacities for moral living and for fellowship with the Eternal. On these facts of moral and religious experience the Hebrew took his stand; he saw the universe itself as the predestined home for their development; he told the story of cosmic creation as culminating in man; (Genesis 1:1 -- 2:3.) and he wrought out an estimate of personality’s worth and destiny which, passing by way of Christianity into confluence with Greek thought, is still part of the great tradition of the Western world. When a modern scientist says that "personality is the great central fact of the universe," (J. Scott Halkane: Mechanism, Life and Personality, p. 139.) he is in lineal descent from Paul, who, both as a Jew and as a Christian, believed that "the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God." (Romans 8:19.) The importance of this tradition is accentuated when it is compared with what had been going on in India. The Hindu-Buddhist development, starting from primitive ideas kindred with the Old Testament’s early tribalism, traveled a far different road. There one feels the controlling sense of the misfortune of man’s self-conscious existence, its endless transmigrations, vain illusions, and insatiable desires. There the solution was sought in a denial of individuality rather than in its affirmation, in a renunciation of man’s clamorous wants rather than in their encouragement and satisfaction. In Buddhism the presupposition is that the universe contains no food for the ultimate feeding of man’s many hungers, no living water for his insatiable thirsts, so that restless hunger and thirst are man’s worst enemies, to be subdued and at last eliminated, until even the desire for self-conscious existence is gone and Nirvana is attained. In the Hebrew-Christian tradition the presupposition is that the universe does contain satisfaction for man’s highest desires, that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are blessed and shall be filled, that there is living bread and water for the spirit, not, in a negative peace of renounced desire but in the positive achievement of triumphant personality, both here and in an eternal kingdom of souls. No such summary contrast can possibly be just to either side; the Buddhist would say that his Nirvana is the satisfaction of his worthiest desires and the Hebrew knew well the need of subjugating, disciplining, and eliminating clamorous wants; but with whatever qualifications, this contrast roughly indicates the far dissevered roads which the two traditions traveled. The distinction of the Hebrew-Christian development of thought about man lies in its insistent affirmation of personality as boundless in value and possibility, and in its faith that God and his universe are pledged to the satisfaction of personality’s inherent promise.
As for the modern scene with its contemporary problems, the New Testament’s idea of man faces immense difficulties in maintaining itself. The vast enlargement of the physical cosmos, the evolutionary origin of man, materialistic theories which endeavor to explain him, brutality of social life involving low conceptions of him, the innumerable masses of men such that old cynicisms gain new force,
The Eternal Sákí from that Bowl has pour’d
these and other factors tend in many minds to undo what the Hebrew-Christian development did. Yet the most humane elements in our civilization are rooted in the estimate of human nature that the Jewish-Christian faith and the Platonic philosophy bequeathed to the Western world. Indeed, in a day when behaviorism as a psychological theory and coercive collectivism as a social ideal are popular, it may be salutary to recall that, far from being modern, both behaviorism and collectivism were primitive. The Hebrew-Christian tradition began with them, and for nearly two millenniums was mainly engaged in breaking free from their impoverishing effects. From this and from the further fact that mankind keeps swinging back to them, it may be fair to infer that there is indeed truth in them, but not enough truth to fit all the evidence or enough satisfaction to meet man’s deepest needs.
Viewed 202384 times.