The Composition of Man


The Biblical account of creation reports that at the end of the sixth day nature stood ready for Adam and Eve’s arrival. There was ample air for lungs, light for sight, food for a stomach. In Genesis 1:26, God, Himself, engages in family planning, and family making: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”1 Thus the mode of creation shifts from commanding creatures into existence to a direct forming, molding and breathing Adam and Eve into life. “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).


From these concise statements emerge several important characteristics of human nature. First, humans were not to be a result of random mutations, not an accident or a chance, nor even an impersonal response to a fiat command. If Adam and Eve came out of the Creator’s hands it was because they were willed, planned and provided for. (The arrival of a human baby into the world today may be a surprise, even an accident, but should never be treated as a nuisance, or a failure.) When Adam and Eve came out of the Creator’s hands they were completed, and whole, finishing God’s dream for His creation.

Body, Breath, and Soul

It must be admitted at the outset that the Biblical text presents a rich and complex picture of human nature. A neat and detailed outline is not as readily available as one would wish. For example, the Biblical witness recognizes dichotomous (body-soul Matthew 10:28 ), trichotomous (spirit, soul and body, 1 Thessalonians 5:23), and a variety of other structures of a human being, (heart, soul, and might, Deuteronomy 6:5); (heart and soul, Deuteronomy 30:6); (heart soul and mind, Matthew 22:37); (heart, soul, strength, and mind, Luke 10:27). Several questions need our attention here. First, how are we to understand such terms as body, breath, and soul (Genesis 2:7), at the very moment of the initial making of Adam? What is the nature of this composite human being? Are the constituent elements independent “parts,” free standing elements, as are the pieces that make up a watch?


Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground . . .” (Genesis 2:7). The first act? The body. Adam formed from adama. No Biblical evidence exists to support the claim that dust used by God was some kind of “animated dust.” It was the “dust of the ground.” Humans hail from here: this planet is the home, and God evidently saw fit to make the material expression an indispensable aspect for being in His image. The act of handling of the dust, of shaping Adam’s body sends a strong signal that the physical and physiological dimension of our being are worthy of personal and immediate attention. The human body was included in the “very good” of Genesis 1:31. It is David, in Psalm139:13, who responds with awe and thanksgiving to God’s “weaving”( NASB), “knitting” (NEB) him. A distinctive characteristic of Christian theology is affirmation of the human body as given at creation affirmed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, nourished by Christian Church, and to be glorified in the resurrection.3 “If we must abstain from overestimating the body (1 Timothy 4:8) we must all the more refrain from denigrating it, as so many mystics and ascetics have done. It certainly ought to be disciplined, (1 Corinthians 9:27), but by no means neglected or despised.” [translation mine]


Genesis 2:7 describes the second event in creation of Adam with words “. . . [God] breathed into his [Adam’s] nostrils the breath of life.” The word ruach translated in KJV by “spirit”( 232 times), “wind” (91 times), and “breath”(28 times), indicates a life principle. A man shape of dust, changes into human body as breath enters into it. Just as the forming of the dust of the ground is done by God himself, so is the life-giving breath God’s exclusive gift to humans. In the Hebrew context breath became a synonym for life itself. It served as an empirical evidence for life, and absence of it indicates death. In addition, breath came to denote other characteristics that accompany life, such as mind, intelligence, and the emotions, or disposition. In the latter sense it is simply translated “spirit” (Psalm 32:2; Isaiah 54:6; Daniel 2:1). Thus we notice divine intent of uniting the material element, dust of the earth which He created previously, with His life-giving breath. At that instant though, the inorganic mass became an organism.


But the next sentence reports a change infinitely more essential. Genesis 2:7 states it simply “and man became a living being (nephesh)”. This word in the Bible contains rich anthropological meaning. For example nephesh and psyche in Genesis 1:20, 24, 30, and Revelation 16:3 refer to animals, and in Genesis 2:7 and Matthew 2:20 to humans. Many times they mean simply “life” as in Job 33:18, 22 and Matthew 10:39, “persons”as in Genesis 46:26, and Acts 7:14, and “self” in Leviticus 11:43. Expressions “my soul” stands for “I,” “me,” “you,” and “he”. . . (Psalm146:1; Luke 1:46). When speaking about humans it usually refers to life of the whole human being. So, as God breathed the breath of life inorganic dust yields an organic body, which “became a living being.” It defies all human genius to imagine what Adam felt when he became soul, when light touched the eye nerve, when nerves transmitted messages to the brain, when feelings responded with a heartbeat, when conscious of himself and his environment he experienced his identity, his self. This was no “ensoulment”: God injecting, permeating, infusing him with a substance called “soul” so that from that moment on he had soul in his body. While there is an undeniable relationship between soul and body, the soul is not some spiritual substance ‘in’ the body as a fetus is ‘in’ the womb, nor is that substance diffused through the body as blood ‘through’ the veins. Rather the soul is just the personal self, the ‘I’ animating the body.

Adam “became a living soul.” Body + breath became more than the sum of the two, they became one: he, Adam. We know the origin of the body, and we know the origin of the breath of life, and when the two unite we know the beginning of the soul. The appearance of the soul identifies body, it is now Adam’s body, it identifies breath as Adam’s breath, until death do them part. But more than that, the soul also expresses individualized being: it affirms, and articulates
the “once-for-allness” of every person. When Mr. Hamish Carter won the gold in the 2004 Triathalon in Athens it was not Mr. Carter’s body that won! To be sure, the volume and tonicity of the muscles, the lightness of the bones, the volume of his lungs were all essential. Of course breath is crucial as well, because the organism needs oxygen, else it dies. It is the whole of him that clinched the victory. Not only body and breath needed each other, but Mr. Carter needed the will power, the resolve, the self-control while training, eating and drinking, which are the function of the inner core, the body + breath union, that is soul. Every cubic millimeter of his body, and every breath are his soul, and because they are so masterfully united, the things that happen in that unity transcend each. Otherwise he is no more.

What then of the spirit? Here again we recognize the richness of the original Biblical languages, and notice that besides “breath of life” and “wind,” ruah is sometimes translated “spirit of wisdom” (Deuteronomy 34:9), “determination” (Haggai 1:4), “courage” (Joshua 5:1), “compassion” (Zechariah 12:10), “faintness” (Psalm 77:3), “pride” (Psalm 76:12), and “jealousy”(Numbers 5:14). In the New Testament the function of the human spirit is focused more on relationship with God. So Paul speaks of “spirit of sonship” which overcomes the “spirit of fear.” “When we cry Abba! Father! It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:14-16).

For several reasons Seventh-day Adventists consider spirit (when it does not refer to breath, or wind) as a function of the human soul. (1) In several places soul and spirit are used interchangeably (Job 27:3; John 12:27; 13:21). (2) Soul as well as spirit are ascribed to animals (Ecclesiastes 3:21; Revelation16:3). (3) To lose the soul means to lose all (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36, 37). Henry C. Thiessen, concurs with Augustus Strong that rather than considering spirit as a constitutive element, it should be viewed as a higher function of the soul. “To the soul would belong man’s imagination, memory, understanding; to the spirit, his powers of reason, conscience, and free will.” This variation explains “how some Christians are ‘carnal’ and others ‘spiritual.’ It also agrees with the teaching that the present body is a ‘soul body’ and that the resurrection body will be a “spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44).”

Whether we venture into details or not, it seems that the New Testament ascribes functional rather than constitutional roles to the human spirit. The apostle Paul contrasts between the natural (psychicos) and spiritual (pneumaticos) person in 1 Corinthians 2:13-16. The first does not “receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. For who has known the mind of God to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” Then in the very next verses of Chapter 3, Paul chides the Corinthians for not being spiritual but rather “fleshly”- soulful. However, if spirituality is the matter of constitution, of the makeup of human nature, then no reprimand, but rather sadness would be in order.


2 comments on “The Composition of Man

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