And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
Yesterday, we covered what it means to be created of the “dust of the ground” and how our bodies are fueled by the “breath of life.” The verse continues by revealing that after life was given to the first human being, “Man became a living being.” The King James Version of the Bible translates this, “And man became a living soul.”
This statement is very significant. It teaches us what the nature of a human being is and what it is not.
A false idea that many believe is that mankind possesses an inner immortal soul. The belief is that the soul is a separate entity from the body and is immortal. When a person dies, the soul lives on (either in heaven or hell). However, this idea relies more on Greek philosophy than the Bible. The Genesis account does not teach the existence of a separate immortal soul. What we read here is that man is a soul. Man became a living soul when life entered him through God’s breath.
The Hebrew word translated “being” or “soul” in English Bibles is nephesh. This word very simply means a living, breathing creature. The Brown-Driver-Brigg’s Hebrew Lexicon translates it as “that which breathes, living being, creature.”
The word nephesh can describe any kind of creature. The word translated “creatures” in Genesis 1:21 describing aquatic, mammal and avian life-forms is nephesh. On a physical level, human beings are composed of the same substance (matter) and are kept alive by the same physical processes as land mammals.
Nephesh also teaches us that humans die—just like animals. A human being does not possess an immortal soul—a human is a soul. But is the human soul immortal?
Notice Ezekiel 18:4: “The soul who sins shall die.” Later, when God commanded the first two humans not to eat a specific fruit, He said the penalty would be that they would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The New Testament reinforces this truth in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death.” Paul also plainly called human beings “mortal” and taught that immortality is something that has to be given by God—“when … this mortal has put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
But does the use of the word nephesh to describe human beings mean we are worth nothing more than animals? The Bible teaches that there is an important spiritual dimension in our lives that separates us from the animal kingdom. It is the “spirit in man” (1 Corinthians 2:11). The spirit in man is what gives us the ability to “know the things of a man.” In other words, the spirit in man is the element in our minds that separates us from animals and allows us to do all the things that are unique to human beings.
To learn more about what the “spirit in man” is and how it enables us to have a relationship with God, read “Spirit in Man: What Is It?”
Tomorrow on the Daily Bible Verse Blog: “God Places Man in the Garden of Eden.”