In Genesis 2:7 the King James Version states that Adam “became a living soul.” What does this mean? Did God give Adam an immortal soul when he was created?
Does Genesis 2:7 support the teaching that people have immortal souls? As we study this verse, consider the following:
Genesis 2:7 does not state that Adam became or was given an immortal soul. It says that he “became a living soul” (King James Version) or “a living being” (New King James Version).
The Hebrew word translated “soul” or “being” is nephesh. This word means a living, breathing being or creature and does not mean that Adam possessed an immortal soul. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words states: “The noun refers to the essence of life, the act of breathing, taking breath.”
Even before God created man, He used the same term (nephesh) in reference to living “creatures”—fish, fowl and creeping things (Genesis 1:20-21, 24). Elsewhere in the Bible the word is used in various ways. Most times it refers to humans or creatures that are alive. However, it is also used in reference to a dead body (Leviticus 21:11). The Hebrew word translated body in this verse is nephesh.
Genesis 2:7 states that Adam was formed from “the dust of the ground,” and was lifeless until God breathed into his nostrils the “breath of life”—not an immortal soul. Without breath, human beings will die. “You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust” (Psalm 104:29). Souls that sin do not live forever, but die (Ezekiel 18:4, 20)—and there are no humans (souls) who have not sinned (Romans 3:23).
God formed man out of physical matter, and all humans were designed to live a temporary, physical existence (Genesis 3:19). God revealed to King Solomon that our lives have no advantage over animals when it comes to death: “All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:20).
What does the Bible say about immortality?
A brief study of the words immortal and immortality brings to light a few interesting facts. The word immortal occurs only once in the Bible and has a direct reference to Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 1:17). Immortality occurs in the following scriptures:
- 1 Timothy 6:16: A reference to the Godhead “who alone has immortality.”
- 2 Timothy 1:10: Christ brought the concept of immortality to our understanding.
- Romans 2:7: Immortality is offered to us, and we should seek it.
- 1 Corinthians 15:53: Immortality is something we must “put on,” which means we don’t have it to start with as physical human beings.
- 1 Corinthians 15:54: Once we have put on immortality, “death is swallowed up in victory.”
Adam and Eve were mortal. God told Adam that if he disobeyed and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The Hebrew phrase can be understood as “dying, you shall die.” In other words, they were created in a mortal form, subject to death. Only by obedience to God could they hope to transcend that form and be placed into God’s family in spirit form. Adam and Eve did not believe God and, as a result, were driven from the Garden of Eden. With access to the tree of life now denied, they had no pathway to immortality, no way to escape the temporary nature of their lives. Adam lived 930 years “and he died” (Genesis 5:5)—just as God said he would!
The hope of the resurrection
But is death final, or is there life after death?
This question has perplexed many over the centuries. Yet the answer is clearly outlined in the Bible, which is the inspired Word of God.
When the apostle Paul appeared before King Agrippa, he spoke about the hope of the resurrection and stated, “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8).
The resurrection from the dead is a part of God’s plan for humanity.
Even though the Bible states that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:50, emphasis added throughout), there are marvelous promises about God offering us humans eternal life through a resurrection. Notice these passages:
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52). This change will be from mortal to immortal.
Jesus Christ stated: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth” (John 5:28-29).
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first … to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
The apostle Paul says the wages (what we earn) of sin (disobedience to God and His laws) is death (Romans 6:23), which refers to eternal death, with no hope of further life. But God has provided a wonderful alternative through forgiveness.“We also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed [fashioned like, KJV] to His glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).
The apostle Paul says the wages (what we earn) of sin (disobedience to God and His laws) is death (Romans 6:23), which refers to eternal death, with no hope of further life. But God has provided a wonderful alternative through forgiveness.
Despite the fact that souls die (Ezekiel 18:4, 20), life—eternal life—is offered to those “who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (Romans 2:7).
God intends “for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). There is exciting news behind God’s marvelous plan to make eternal life available to every human being once physical death overtakes us. Death should not gain the victory over us! As the apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
Surely this human potential is a goal to wholeheartedly embrace and strive for!
For more about the Bible’s teaching about the soul, see “Immortal Soul: What Is a Soul?” For more about God’s plan to offer us eternal life, see “Resurrections: What Are They?” and “Children of God.”