Disembodied State

  • Question from SB, USA

    Can you tell me the meaning of a ‘disembodied state’?

    A simple definition is that of a spirit or soul existing without a body. The idea that the soul can exist apart from the body is quite popular today, but is not actually a traditional Christian point of view, having its origins in Hellenistic (Greek) philosophy. The New Testament borrows from pre-Christian Jewish thought, regarding human beings holistically – an indivisible three-fold combination of body, soul and spirit (or mind). That is why salvation is seen through a physical resurrection, albeit in a changed body, not a ‘spiritual’ migration of the soul to a different place (see for example1 Corinthians chapter 15, verses 42-44).

    In contrast to the New Testament view of human beings, some Hellenistic philosophy (often called ‘gnosticism’) taught that the true essence of humanity was found in the immortal soul, which was ‘trapped’ in the physical body and needed releasing from its ‘fleshly prison’. This negative view of the body is firmly rejected in Christian doctrinal statements about what it means to be human.

    Another ‘disembodied state’ is the disputed occurrence of ‘out-of-body’ or ‘near death’ experiences (OBE and NDE). These typically take place in perilous situations, where people are gradually dying and include visions of their own body seen from ‘outside’, white light, dead relatives and sometimes even God or Jesus. There have also been recorded OBE and NDE accounts where people claim to have visited Hell and have been so shaken by the experience, that upon medical revival in this world, they have fervently become Christians. How much credence is given to these accounts is of course entirely subjective and theories relating to thought pathways in the brain triggering visual hallucinations as the brain cells shut down have been posited instead.

    Given the Christian holistic emphasis on the nature of human beings, it naturally precludes the sentimental idea of departed souls with unfinished business continuing to exist as ‘ghosts’. However, inconclusive yet intriguing evidence for psychic phenomena has been presented and there is also one ‘ghost story’ found in the Old Testament when the Israelite king Saul uses a witch to summon the spirit of Samuel the prophet (the story is found in 1 Samuel chapter 28). At no point in this tale does the author say that the spirit was not Samuel and if it was indeed his spirit, then this is the one account in the Bible of someone in a disembodied state.

    Thanks for your question, SB.

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