C.S. Lewis is often quoted for saying, “You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” This is actually a misquote however. It’s been proven that C.S. Lewis never said this. Although regardless of its origin, this quote attributed to Lewis gets shared quite a lot around social media with great enthusiasm from many Christians and non-Christians alike.
But this quote, whoever first said it, represents a failure in Christian theology. Fundamentally, this statement is rooted in gnostic philosophy and new age thinking. The notion that your earthly body is only a temporary shell is not a Christian idea at all. In fact, it is anti-Christian. This idea threatens the truth of a bodily resurrection (Jesus’ historical resurrection and our eschatological one), which is a grave error to make. This statement is the by-product of a Gnostic philosophy. 1 For the Gnostics, earthy matter was evil and spiritual matter was good. Therefore, the Gnostics rejected earthly pleasures by disciplining their bodies by strict abstinence and harsh punishments. Or, on the other hand, others treated earthly existence as futile and therefore, indulged in all sorts of corruption and immorality. Both ethical responses stem from a radical Dualism between that which is heavenly and that which is earthly. 2
Gnosticism is a heresy which ultimately denied Jesus’ physical existence, and in doing so, salvation itself. Gnostics trade a real human salvation for an abstractly “spiritual” one. Jesus therefore comes not to save human beings, but to save our spirits. The incarnation is thereby deemed unnecessary and false. All this spirals into a blatant disregard of creation and the negation of the Christian Gospel. In short, Gnosticism is a serious problem for theology and for the Gospel.
Yet thousands will share this quote, most of them Christians, with great enthusiasm, unknowingly taking part in promoting Gnosticism. Why? Unfortunately, I’m afraid it is because Gnosticism is alive and flourishing in the church today. We too, like the early Gnostics, have traded a real flesh and blood human salvation with a strictly platonic “spiritual” salvation somewhere off in heaven. Jesus, for many, did not come to save us as a human being, but rather to only give us access to a spiritual world apart from this reality, ie, “heaven”.
Many Christians today would be surprised to know how little the bible actually talks about heaven. Instead, the scriptures are far more concerned with heaven coming to earth, the kingdom of God manifesting here and not, along with a final bodily resurrection with the second coming of Jesus Christ. God in the end will not throw away the creation, He will resurrect it. He will make a “new heaven and new earth.” (Rev. 21:1)
God is not an anti-materialist. He is the original, material-loving God! He created the world after all, and He’s not quick to throw away what He’s made. Our bodies are not headed for destruction, nor are they merely a shell for metamorphosis. We are looking forward to a bodily resurrection in Christ when He comes again.
If I would restate the quote, I’d do it like this: “You are neither a soul, a mind, or a body in abstraction from the rest of you. You are a human being, and therefore, all of these things at once!”
So what do you think? Have you heard this quote before? What did you think of it?
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- Gnosticism is one of the first heresies that came about during first centuries of Christianity. ↩
- For more on Gnosticism see my video on it here. ↩
9 thoughts on ““You are a Soul” C.S. Lewis Misquote & Gnostic Heresy”
This is so relevant, thanks for sharing! Literally just googled this quote after realising that I had (subconsciously) believed in it for a long time and wondering how I could have come to accept it despite as a Christian
Given your research, if not from Lewis who is the quote correctly attributed
I believe the quote is from Walter M Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Liebowitz. You’ll have to read to the end to find it.
I have a friend who doubts (at least the majority of) the historical life of Christ, but says “I know He’s real because He’s alive in my heart.” And I thought of how many think the reverse (that Christ was an actual historical being, but isn’t alive) when he added, “I know He’s God because He is my life: in Him we move and have our being.”
It might not be very good theology, but it inspired me regardless. Sure, I’ll tell anybody that I believe in both the history and divinity of the Lord, but I live so much of my life as though Christ isn’t alive in *my* heart.
I’m pretty sure this idea does not have anything to do with a bodily resurrection. It has to do with the functions that the three parts play. Of course there is a bodily resurrection and of course, the body I will resurrect with will not be the exact same flesh that rots in the grave or is incinerated through cremation. I personally believe it is a glorified body, just like the one Adam had (pre-sin) and the body that Jesus rose from the grave with and has now. It is highly possible that the old CS Lewis quote is not Lewis at all and that doesn’t matter much to me. I think it’s an important thing to consider however, because it is clearly the soul and not the spirit or the body that is “born again”. When I get saved, my physical body does not change at all. I personally believe that my spirit was with God before I was conceived and was created perfect. My old soul was connected to Adam and was sinful, but when I was born again, that soul died and I was given a new soul with God’s DNA. This is what I believe. That has nothing to do with a literal resurrection. Jesus still has a body and it does not age. I will have the same. Your thoughts are welcomed.
I enjoyed this perspective and agree with its points on salvation, the resurrection and coming kingdom but think tying the quote, whether from Lewis or not, strictly to Gnosticism is a bit of an overreach. Not to deny harmful applications but to me this quote beautifully underscores the priority of the soul over the flesh.
Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.“
Did early Gnostics spin bad doctrine and take this too far? Indeed, but that has been the unfortunate fate for many biblical truths. Abuse of a truth does not negate the truth. The truth is that Jesus’ own words tell us to be willing to sacrifice our bodies in order to save our souls. I really think the quote articulates this well and it’s a bit overzealous to ascribe admiration of it as naively subscribing to new age dogma.
Matthew 16:26: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
Thank you Chris. You elegantly stated my understanding of that quote, incorrectly attributed or not.
The word “nephesh” can be translated either as soul or body in the Old Testament.
To say “you are a soul” is to acknowledge Old Testament implications. Maybe, the “togetherness” of our humanity is so much that we will call it a soul. We will call it glorious… and I think this affirms much of Lewis’ work on what “spiritual” means.