So I keep seeing this “quote” of C.S. Lewis popping up: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Or some similar variation. Problem is, Lewis never said it or wrote it. It was Walter Miller in A Canticle for Leibowitz (which sounds interesting, but I’ve never read it). Here’s the link to the quote.
Besides the fact that it’s in the mouth of a character in a novel not written by Lewis, and then attributed to Lewis as if he were making a theological statement about human nature, it’s simply false (if not blasphemous). It is the pithy form of a heresy called gnosticism, and it’s been around a long, long time. Gnosticism (very generally) is the idea that there is a secret knowledge (Gk: gnosis) available to the enlightened, and that this knowledge essentially equals salvation. One of the things from which you must be saved, gnostics taught (and teach) is this evil, physical, material world. Some gnostics thought that the physical was evil and so you should have nothing to do with it (and so became ascetics). Others taught that it was evil and so you could do whatever you wanted with your flesh, because it was the soul that mattered (and became libertines).
This theology is everywhere and it seems impossible to eradicate, even among otherwise well-meaning Christians. How often does Jesus become a teacher who came to give us some knowledge that we wouldn’t otherwise know, and now that we know Jesus, we can do what He wants us to? That’s not Christianity, it’s gnosticism. Jesus didn’t come primarily to teach us something that we didn’t already know, He came to do something for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves. And when we disparage the body in order to elevate the soul, we have entered not a Christian conception of human beings, but a gnostic one. The simple question to identify a creeping gnosticism is this: did God create this? Gnostics believe(d) that physical stuff is the result of demons, or sin, or lesser gods. Christians believe that physical stuff is good, and is redeemed by Christ from its corruption by sin. Gnostics believe(d) that when you die you get rid of this evil physical body and are “freed” to be “who you really are”: a soul. You will never find such a conception in the Scriptures, and certainly not from Jesus. You’ll recall that when Jesus is raised from the dead, He has a body that can be touched and that can eat. He is not a soul freed from His body, but both body and soul. That is, Jesus is a man; actually, the Man. And we will be like Him.
John wrote, “…what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (3:2).
Read Romans 8:18-25. Paul speaks of the whole creation groaning and waiting; of us groaning inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies. Or read 2 Corinthians 5, where Paul says we groan in the tent of this body, but not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (5:4). Or 1 Corinthians 15:42ff. We will bear the image of the man of heaven, Jesus.
To suggest that we are something other than body and soul together; or to suggest that our soul is the important part, and this body is just a vehicle or a vessel or something other than integral to what makes a man or a woman; this is nothing less than a hatred of what God created or, worse, a hatred of what Christ redeemed in His body. You are not a soul or a body; you are a person, body and soul. That’s how God created you, and since Christ redeemed you (body and soul) in His body, you will be body and soul in the new creation as well.
So can we pretty please stop attributing the quote to C.S. Lewis? He was wrong about some things, but he was not a gnostic.