Interview with Joel B. Green (Part 2)

We now continue with the second (and last) part of the interview that I conducted with Joel Green.  Please check out the first part, if you have not already done so, HERE.

NKG: Your book is about the ‘body’ and the ‘soul’ in the discussion of the human person. What about the human spirit? Would you treat such passages (Acts 7.59; 1 Cor. 14.14) in the same way?

JBG: I  don’t treat the tripartite view of the human person for two reasons. First, the term “spirit” fell out of the discussion long ago, with “soul” doing double-duty, so to speak. Second, then, the tripartite view of the human person simply doesn’t show up in the scholarly literature of any field with which I was working for this book.


For an example of how I might address such matters, I could easily point to my treatment of the terminology in 1 Peter, where I attempt  to  situate  these  terms within  the wider discourse of the letter.

NKG: What about the Holy Spirit? Does the Holy Spirit ‘do something’ to the person (including the mind)? Does the indwelling of the Holy Spirit ‘change’ that person is a tangible way? Does neuroscience bring anything to this element of the discussion?


JBG: This is the million-dollar question. The same problem confronts the dualist, of course. It is easy enough to say that the Holy Spirit interacts with the human “soul,” but there has never been a satisfactory answer for how an intangible, nonextended human “soul” interacts with the human body. Similarly, the question arises for monists how the Holy Spirit  interacts with  the human person.
This is why a biblical scholar would gravitate away from positions known to the philosophers such as eliminative materialism or reductive physicalism; somehow, we need to account for top-down influence, and many such positions are championed in the literature (duality without dualism, nonreductive physicalism, deep physicalism, etc.). I find useful the model that Nancey Murphy presents in her book, Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? (Cambridge University Press, 2006). She talks about divine influence at the quantum level.

NKG: Given the importance of the topic of your book and the uniqueness of the approach, this could have been a much longer and larger project! It seems like a lot of theological battles are won or lost in Paul’s letters, and yet you did not undertake a focused ‘exegesis’ of all the relevant passages in
Paul’s letters (though you certainly dealt with some of them). Was this a conscious decision? Is there more you want to write on this topic?


JBG: When I lecture on topics related to this book, I deal with a range of texts — then always get asked about others in the Q&A session that follows. I find that some folks are so accustomed to reading the Bible from the perspective of a dualist philosophical framework that they are unable to read it in any other way. In the end, then, I don’t think this discussion will be won or lost on exegetical grounds alone but rather on the grounds of presupposition. I am not suggesting that a viewpoint need not demonstrate itself exegetically, of course! I am only saying that, for the committed dualist, the list of texts needing to be addressed is virtually endless.

The whole discussion reminds me of the years I spent doing evangelism in jails in West Texas: I found I could systematically address one objection after the other without ever convincing someone to be a follower of Christ! But if folks were willing to cross the threshold of faith, they were able to see things from a perspective that voided many of those objections.

In other words, a change of perspective is needed, and this rarely happens as a result of building up a series of little arguments. So I have been working some on exegetical details and some on larger issues of presupposition.


NKG: Keeping the last part of # 8 in mind, what are you going to work on next that utilizes your unique scientific and theological (i.e. neuro-hermeneutical) background?

JBG: I am presently working on a book that addresses conversion in Luke-Acts from the perspective of cognitive science (and cognitive  linguistics) — building off of one of the chapters  in Body, Soul, and Human Life. The “annual lecture” I gave last year at the Institute for Biblical Research is related to this project. I also have in mind doing further work at the interface of neuroscience and biblical-theological perspectives on Christian life. A good deal of contemporary research on “religious experience” needs to be located in a more sustained and “thickened” discussion of Scripture and the theological tradition. And we have seen a new field of research begun  in  the last decade —neuroethics — and this has enormous implications for the life of the church…


NKG: What scholars have inspired you to pursue such an interdisciplinary project?


JBG: I could mention three: Malcolm Jeeves, a neuropsychologist retired from the University of St. Andrews; Nancey Murphy, a philosopher at Fuller Theological Seminary; and Jim Holsinger, who teaches in the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky. In different ways, they have opened doors for further conversation.

NKG: Dr. Green – thank you for these further insights and reflections on your research.  I hope your book is read by many!

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One thought on “Interview with Joel B. Green (Part 2)

  1. Thanks for this interview! I enjoyed Dr. Green’s book as well. I’m curious, as an evangelical grad student in NT studies, how you receive something like Dr. Green’s project insofar as it diverges from some basic assumptions underlying how evangelicals read scripture, particularly when it comes to the creation and fall narratives. Dr. Green accepts the conclusion of the natural sciences that humanity has a long evolutionary history, which has shaped our neurological makeup, among other things. I think he’s right to do that, but I’m not sure how well that relates to an evangelical stance on the creation of man, particularly with respect to Paul’s theological use of “Adam.” Curious for your thoughts on that.

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