“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.
Refuting False Teaching on the Soul
Before I go further, I need to refute the false teaching of the Manichees, which Servetus has attempted to revive in this time. What they argue is that God transported his very substance to people when he breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). In other words, they thought some part of God’s “God-ness” went into humanity. If God’s essence, however, was put into humanity, then God’s very nature must be liable to unregulated emotions and change. It must also be liable to ignorance, evil desires, sickness and all kinds of vices. Humanity is super inconsistent as people’s souls are always in turbulence.
People are constantly deluded by their lack of skills and overcome by the slightest temptations. The soul becomes like a garbage can for all kinds of evil. But then, if the divine nature is held within human nature, then all these things become part of God. Who doesn’t recoil at such a thought? Of course, Paul tells us we are God’s offspring when he quotes the Greek poest Aratus (Acts 17:28). But he’s not saying he are his children by way of sharing in the “essence” of God. Instead, what he’s saying is that he share many of the same abilities as God: to think, to act, etc. Meanwhile, to cut open the essence of the Creator and assign a portion of it to each person is foolishness.
Therefore, although souls have the divine image stamped upon, it is evident to see that they must be created too, just like angels are. Creation, however, is not the tranfusion of “essence” but a creation of a new essence of out nothing! God gives each person a soul. And the soul returns to God when the body dies. But it does not follow that the soul is a portion of God’s divine nature.
Besides the error of the Manichees, Osiander also promotes false teaching concerning the soul. He denies that humanity was created “good” in a state of innocence in the beginning. He believes the only way people can become like God is if God’s own nature by virtue of Christ is transfused into them. This is just a revival of Manicheism. But when Paul describes the renewal of God’s image in people (2 Corinthians 3:18), he does not talk about God’s essence being infused into humanity but the renewal occurs through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it is through beholding Christ’s glory that we are transformed into the same image through the Spirit of the Lord. The Spirit does indeed change us, but not into the same essence as God.