What Is a Human Being?

Are humans just the highest species on the food chain—the product of blind chance? Or is there a real purpose for our existence—an incredible human potential?

Many seem to believe that humans are simply the most developed species in the animal kingdom. Most also assume that human beings, like the animals around them, are products of a long evolutionary process.

But is man an animal? Did he evolve, perhaps from primordial slime? Or from microscopic particles on a piece of rock hurled to earth from some far-away planet?

Only the Bible contains the true and complete answers to the origin of man.

Are human beings unique?

What is a human being really? Why do we alone among all physical living things possess the intellect to study ourselves? Why do we have unique abilities to think, plan and carry out plans? Why do we not follow the patterns in the animal world of repeated predictable behaviors?

Human beings clearly are not limited to the mindless repetition of animal behaviors or the lifestyle of ancestors passed down through hundreds of generations with almost no change. Man is a thinking, creative being.

The animal kingdom

No matter where you live, you are probably familiar with birds, so let’s take a quick look at them. Birds build nests the same way their parents did. They tend their young the same way their parents did. Those that migrate fly the same, often remarkable, distances to winter in foreign lands—the same places previous generations have always wintered.

<p>We don't find birds seeking to design new, different kinds of nests.</p>

We don't find birds seeking to design new, different kinds of nests.

We don’t find birds seeking architects or decorators to design and build them a new, different kind of nest. They don’t consult travel agents to find a better vacation spot.

Mammals are much the same. They live a life characterized by routine behavior and little variety within a species. Even though they can be taught simple responses through repetitious training, they do not think as a human being does.

Animals have instinct that guides them in fulfilling fundamental needs, but they do not have minds that think and plan and build in new, creative ways.

Elephants have been thoroughly studied because they have some unusual family connections and seem to display emotions. But once again, they are acting on instinct and do not realize what they are.

Yes, human beings are unique among the earth’s population of living organisms. And humanity alone has the intellect and the power to dominate the other species.

Where did we humans come from?

Have you ever carefully studied the nature of man and his origin? Probably in some classroom or book you were led to believe that man evolved from the simplest life-forms. But where did those simple life-forms themselves originate? How did nonliving chemicals suddenly become living? And where did the chemicals themselves come from?

Many people seek to believe some combination of divine creation and evolution. But the biblical description of creation is just not compatible with Darwinian evolution. They cannot both be true.

So what is the truth? And where can you find it? Whether or not you undertake lifelong studies of the origin of life, the answer will come down to one question: Will you accept the teaching of eminent scientists that only evolution can explain man’s existence—or will you accept the plain statements of the Bible?

The Bible examines the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual capacities of human beings—and proclaims that a Creator God is responsible for all this, making humans in His own image. It describes humanity’s relationship to both God and the animal world. No one but you can choose whether you will believe the biblical accounts and reject contradictory theories of evolutionary science. And only you will reap the blessings or the consequences of your decision.

What is our authority?

True science and the Bible are compatible. This truth has often been obscured by the misinterpretation of Bible statements, especially as they relate to time frames. For example, the Bible does not say that the earth can be no older than 6,000 years, yet many religious teachers cling to that belief. (See the article “How Do We Know the Bible Is True?” for more about why science doesn’t disprove the Bible.)

Understandably, scientists scoff. Such misunderstandings have led many to reject the biblical account of creation out of hand. They have therefore never studied what it actually says.

But in reality the Bible is the only valid authority humanity has. It is the Maker’s handbook for the human product. Let’s take a closer look at this all-important book.

In the well-known creation account in Genesis 1, we see that God built the earth and its systems and made it habitable for man and beast. At this point we are not told about the rest of the universe outside our solar system. The account is concerned only with the habitation of man and his relationship with his Creator.

The creation of man and woman is summarized in Genesis 1:26, but the details are found in chapter 2. “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” (verse 7).

The Creator God is the source of human life. The air we breathe was also created by God. It contains oxygen, which we must have to survive. That oxygen is carried to all parts of the body in the blood. Later, God tells us that blood “is the life of all flesh. Its blood sustains its life” (Leviticus 17:14). Scientists know that life comes only from life (a principle known as the law of biogenesis).

God is Spirit (John 4:24), but man is altogether physical. His life is temporary; his death certain. After the sin in the garden, God said to Adam, “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

Modern religion has accepted the serpent’s false statement and believes that human beings are indeed immortal. Yet God’s own words clearly show that Adam’s only pathway to immortality was through the tree of life, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit.Where did we get the common belief that man is an immortal (ever-living) soul? “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die’” (Genesis 3:4). This is the first recorded lie told to mankind. Man was led to believe that he was immortal—that he would live forever.

Is a human being an immortal soul?

Modern religion has accepted the serpent’s false statement and believes that human beings are indeed immortal. Yet God’s own words clearly show that Adam’s only pathway to immortality was through the tree of life, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit.

Notice the reason God gave in Genesis 3:22 for driving the man and woman out of the Garden of Eden: “And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”

God had given our first parents that very potential—to eat of the tree of life, by which they would submit their lives to God, which, in turn, would lead to everlasting life in His family. But they rejected that offer by disobeying God and eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—thereby submitting their lives to Satan’s (the serpent’s) control. Satan has influenced and deceived mankind ever since.

Then what is a human being? Let it be restated emphatically here: Man is not an immortal soul, nor does he have an immortal soul. Satan’s lie was enough for Eve and her husband, Adam—they fell for it and sinned. Later statements in the Bible have since been misinterpreted in light of that lie and have led to further confusion about man’s mortal status.

The truth is that man does have a spirit component—perhaps one element of being created in the image of God. “But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding” (Job 32:8).

Connecting with God

But this spirit in man is not the man and is not a separate being or life. It is a nonphysical element that God put into man to give him intellect greater than that of animals, but far less than that of God.

The Bible speaks of another spirit—the Holy Spirit—which makes possible a relationship between man and God. “The Spirit Himself [itself, King James Version] bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).

And again, “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (verse 11). Yes, did you notice? Our bodies are mortal and will be given real life only through Christ.

The incredible human potential

<p>The Bible reveals that human beings have an incredible potential.</p>

The Bible reveals that human beings have an incredible potential.

When we tie all these scriptures—and many more—together, we find what a human being is—a flesh-and-blood being. Man is made of the dust and activated by the breath of life. His life is entirely physical and temporary. He is not now immortal and does not have an immortal soul.

But he was made with the capacity to interact with God, his Creator. He has the capacity to receive in his mind and spirit God’s Holy Spirit, which makes him a child of God. The end result of that conversion is becoming a born child of God, composed of spirit and living eternally as a member of the very God family.

Children of God?

Let’s examine a few more supporting points from the Bible that help answer the questions, What is a human being? And what is our potential? First, back to the book of Romans. The apostle Paul says, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14).

In another letter, Paul describes the whole process of the transition of Christians from mortal human flesh to immortal spirit: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).

Knowing this truth, we can say with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33).

The dismal alternative for the unbelieving man is described by the apostle James: “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).

The choice

Even the dead must be changed if they are to be with God. They are not now immortal in heaven. Yet millions are deceived and do not believe what God says. They don’t know what human beings are!

How about you? Have you accepted the nonbiblical immortal soul teaching? Do you think death is just a passage into immortality? Or are you beginning to discover that God set before all human beings the choice between life—everlasting life—and permanent death?

The choice is yours. Can you read your own Bible and surrender to God’s will in your life?

Because you are a human being, made in the image of God, you have the almost unbelievable potential to become a member of the family of God. How wonderful is that? Will you choose the brightest future you can imagine? We hope you do. Read more in the article “Children of God” and the section “Is There Life After Death?”

About the Author

Larry Salyer

Larry Salyer is a retired pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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