God and Creation—Part 7

Man, a Living Soul

“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 soul.”
—Genesis 2:7

THE SECOND CHAPTER of Genesis contains a detailed account of man’s creation. The man whose creation is described in detail in this chapter is the same man mentioned in the first chapter, and who is said to have been created “in the image of God.” (vs. 27) It is not true that the first chapter of Genesis describes the creation of a spiritual man, whereas the man of the second chapter is earthly, carnal, and sinful, as is claimed by some. The best authority we have on this point is the Apostle Paul, and he informs us that the “first” man was of the “earth, earthy.” (I Cor. 15:47) Paul also informs us that the “first man Adam was made a living soul.”—vs. 45


Obviously, there could have been no man prior to the ‘first’ man, so the harmony of the two accounts in Genesis is not in the unscriptural theory of a pre-Adamic human race, but in the fact that the opening chapter of Genesis is a brief, general account of the entire creative work of God which reached its climax in the Creation, and the second chapter is a detailed record of God’s creation of man, his relationship to, and his dealings with him, including the manner in which he was made.

As we study the detailed record of the manner in which man was created, we marvel at its simplicity, and at the same time, its scientific accuracy. We are told that man was formed ‘of the dust of the ground.’ We are not obliged to literalize this to a point that it becomes an absurdity, as though water was mixed with dust and a body was formed with resulting mud. It is simply God’s way of explaining that man’s organism, his body, was made up of various chemical elements found in the earth. Those for whom this record was first designed would not have understood technical and scientific terms, but God has the ability to state himself in simple terms, and has done so in this wonderful text.

The human organism was created, but it had no life. It had eyes, but they saw nothing; a nose, but it did not sense the fragrant odors of the Edenic garden in which this marvelous piece of workmanship was lying. It had a tongue, but it tasted not; and ears to which all sounds were as silence. It had hands, which had no sense of touch. The perfect heart, with its coordinating valves, and its connections with the arteries and veins of that perfect body, was motionless. Its lungs were immobile. It was a perfect organism, with all its intricate parts correctly assembled, as only a master workman, the Creator, could do. But it was a dead, lifeless body.

If man was to live, something more than just a perfect body was needed, and this God supplied. He ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’ and instantly that lifeless organism became alive. The breath of life carried oxygen to the lungs, and they began to function. This induced the heart to start pumping blood through the arteries, returning it through the veins. This brought life pulsations to the nerves, causing the ears to hear, the eyes to see, the nose to smell, the tongue to taste, and the hands to feel. The first man was now alive; he had become a ‘living soul.’

What was this magic power which God breathed into the nostrils of Adam? Some have mistakenly supposed that it was an indestructible, living entity, which had life apart from the organism into which it was breathed, an immortal soul that escaped when Adam’s body died.

The proper, scriptural answer to this question is essential if, in tracing the threads of Truth through the Bible which pertain to the hope of eternal life, we are not to lose our way and go astray. The Hebrew word, which is translated breath in the expression ‘breath of life,’ is n’shamah. This Hebrew word is translated “breath” in Genesis 7:21,22. Describing the destruction wrought by the Deluge, the record reads, “All flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.”

This inspired use of the Hebrew word n’shamah reveals that the lower animals have the same breath of life as that which was breathed into the nostrils of man. We doubt if many will contend that God gave immortal souls to the lower animals. To be consistent we will have to conclude that what the Lord breathed into Adam’s nostrils was not, therefore, an immortal soul, but was, as the record states, the breath of life, the breath by which all breathing creatures are made to live.


In Ecclesiastes 3:18-21, there is a wonderful exposition of truth on this subject. Here the word breath is a translation of a different Hebrew word ruwach, a word, nevertheless, which from its various uses in the Bible is seen to have essentially the same meaning as n’shamah, used in Genesis 2:7 and 7:21,22. In this passage in Ecclesiastes, the Hebrew word ruwach is also translated “spirit.” The passage reads, “I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath [ruwach]; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth [or, who can prove] the spirit [ruwach, breath] of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?”

The Marginal Translation of the closing question in this passage is clearer. Using this, the text might be paraphrased, “Who knoweth that the spirit of man is ascending, and the spirit of the beast is descending?” The prophet had already answered the question. Having sought in his heart to know God’s answer to this question he had learned, he says, that man has no preeminence above a beast, that they have all one breath, and all go to the same place at death which, of course, is into death.

In Ecclesiastes, we have another very interesting use of the Hebrew word ruwach, so frequently translated breath in the Old Testament, the breath which is common both to man and beast. In this book is described the experience of death, and what it means. It says, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” (chap. 12:7) As we have seen, in the third chapter of Ecclesiastes we are informed that the spirit, or breath, of beasts goes to the same place when they die as does the spirit, or breath, of man. Are we to conclude, then, that beasts have immortal souls, which go to heaven when they die?

The Scriptures do not bear out any such rash conclusion. The Hebrew word ruwach, sometimes translated spirit, and sometimes breath, simply denotes invisible power. When associated with the works of God, it describes the power of God. It is this word that is translated spirit in Genesis 1:2 where we are told that the “spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” When preaching on Mars’ hill the Apostle Paul explained that in God “we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) The power of God, by which we live, is transmitted to our organisms by means of the breath of life. The same is true with respect to the lower animals. At death this invisible power of life reverts to its Giver, even as the body returns to the dust from which it was taken.


The record states that when God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of the perfect human organism, which he had created, ‘man became a living soul.’ The essential fact here related is easily discerned—man ‘became’ a living soul. He was not given a soul, but became a living soul, or a living being, when the breath of life animated his perfect organism. This is the meaning of the word soul throughout the entire Bible. The Bible nowhere speaks of an immortal soul. This expression is not even contained in the Bible. It originated with various religions, and was introduced into the church after the death of the apostles. Various animals were referred to as souls, and in the same sense that men are souls. We quote, “Levy a tribute unto the Lord of the men of war which went out to battle: one soul of five hundred, both of the persons, and of the beeves, and of the asses, and of the sheep.”—Num. 31:28

The obvious and inescapable conclusion, which must be drawn from the complete scriptural testimony on this point, is that man was created a mortal being. Man, if he was to live forever, would have to be sustained by food and other provisions divinely provided, and blessed through the continuous sunshine of his Creator’s favor.

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Dawn Bible Students Association
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