What is man? There are two generally accepted answers to this question. The first answer people might give is that man is a physical being, a product or by-product of evolution. He is something that occurred over billions of years. Man is just another animal, and when man dies that is the end of his life and his existence. When people who believe this are asked about the purpose of life, they may say that there is no purpose of life, or they may say that the purpose of life is just to be happy, or to make other people happy during this short existence.
The second answer to the question is believed by many people as well, that man has an immortal soul trapped in a physical body.
What is the truth? Is either answer correct? We will answer these questions in this study.
WHAT MAN IS NOT
First let us talk a little bit more about what man is not. The concept of an immortal soul began about 6,000 years ago in the Garden of Eden. Turn to Genesis chapter 2, the incident of the two trees: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.
Genesis chapter 2, starting in verse 15: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” These are very clear instructions from God: if they ate of that tree, they would die.
Go on Genesis chapter 3 verse 1: “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden”?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.”’” Eve understood her instructions very well.
Verse 4: “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die.’” Satan was saying that she was immortal and implying, in a sense, that she had this immortal soul. This is where the first concept of man’s immortality came about, from Satan the devil himself.
This concept of an immortal soul was well-known throughout the ancient world in ancientEgyptand ancientBabylon. Socrates went toEgyptwhere he learned it. He taught Plato. Plato wrote that death is the separation of the soul and body, and other philosophers like Aristotle and Virgil believed this as well. This idea continued on even into what we call Christian times. For example, Origen, a Catholic teacher, inAlexandriaEgypttaught about an immortal soul. Also Tertullian taught about an immortal soul and even quoted Plato; Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and others did likewise. Martin Luther wrote that there was not an immortal soul, although it is interesting that most who attend churches that have his name do believe in an immortal soul.
William Tyndale, the first printer of the New Testament in English, asked a very profound question. He said that if a soul is in heaven, why do you need a resurrection? He understood there was no immortal soul as well.
Let us see what the Bible, the source of all spiritual knowledge, says on this topic.
MAN BECAME A LIVING SOUL
Turn to Genesis chapter 2 verse 7: “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.” Here we have man made of the dust of the ground, something physical. He became a living being, and in the King James Version it says, “he became a living soul.” It does not say he has an immortal soul. In fact this word “soul” comes from the Hebrew word nephesh. In Strong’s Concordance, this is number 5315, which is a breathing creature, the life of animals.
Turn to Genesis chapter 1, verse 20: “Then God said, ‘Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.’” In the phrase, “living creatures”, creatures is the same word nephesh, which is translated “soul” elsewhere. In fact, I am reading from a New King James Version, and my marginal reference there gives an alternate translation of that word “creatures” as “souls.” It is the same word; there are just two ways of translating it. Neither one means immortal soul.
Turn to Ezekiel chapter 18 verse 4: “’Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die.’” This proves that the soul is not immortal. Go on to verse 20 where it is repeated. “The soul who sins shall die.”
IN THE IMAGE OF GOD
What else does the Bible say about what man is? We are created in the image of God. Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” To be created in the image of the Creator means man is very special. Another study on “Who and What Is God” will explain this further.
THE SPIRIT IN MAN
The Bible tells us there is a spirit in man. I Corinthians 2:11: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” By the spirit of man, we know the things of a man–in other words, physical things.
This “spirit in man” is a term that is used several times in the Bible. Job chapter 32 verse 8: “’But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding.’” Again that term “spirit in man” is associated with receiving understanding.
Zechariah 12:1 also uses this term: “The burden of the word of the Lord againstIsrael. Thus says the Lord, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.” God forms the spirit in man in us.
Ezra chapter 1 verse 1 adds to this understanding: “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying…” and the verse goes on to give his proclamation. God led the spirit of a particular man, Cyrus the king ofPersia, to give the decree that the Jews should return toJerusalemandJudahafter their captivity.
One more example is in Ephesians chapter 4 verses 23-24: “…and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness.”
We start putting all of these instances together and we begin to understand that the human mind is this human spirit, this spirit in man, plus the brain, of course. As people think and their thoughts change, you can detect certain electrical patterns that change in their brains. Physical change occurs. But what we have learned here is that this spirit in man, this non-physical essence, also has something to do with it.
Many animals have brains that are as big or bigger than a man’s brain, yet they do not have the intelligence. It is the spirit essence that makes the difference. Man has material and physical knowledge because of the brain and that spirit essence in him. He can work with things, build a building, plan and build computers and cell phones. They learn science, the laws of physics of the universe, the laws of chemistry, physics, biology. They apply it as technology to make our lives easier and more convenient.
Man develops his culture, his art, some of the most beautiful music imaginable. We marvel at how some of these people have such beautiful minds that they are able to compose such beautiful pieces of music or paint such beautiful pictures or make such beautiful sculptures. Again, it is the human mind composed of the brain and the spirit in man. The spirit in man is certainly not instinct. I worked on a dairy farm years ago, and I would watch the calves being born. The first thing the ones who were strong enough wanted to do was stand up. Within a minute or two some were up! Most children take a whole year to learn to walk; we do not have the instinct. Instead, we have to be taught everything.
The spirit in man enables man to be self-aware; he knows that he exists. He knows those around him, and he realizes that he needs to make an attempt at morality and to try to understand ethics, to understand right and wrong. He thinks about why he does things, and he makes choices. We call it free moral agency. He chooses right and wrong. He wonders why he was born and what the purpose of life is. He tries to have a relationship with other people and sometimes succeeds, sometimes fails.
Man wants a relationship with God or a god. He can figure out that much at least, although he does not really understand all of the details of who and what God is (which is a subject for another Bible study). He tries to understand some of the beautiful thoughts of God.
The spirit essence records the memory of a person, and then returns to God when man dies. Ecclesiastes 12 verse 7, thought to be written by Solomon, conveys this wisdom: “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” This shows that our spirit, the human spirit, returns to God and He keeps it there. At some point there is a resurrection, and when that happens, God will use that spirit. It is the record of the memories that we had, that is, our personality, everything about us.
Man with his mind–the brain plus the spirit essence–is really not complete. Some would say he is only half there. This spirit essence is able to combine with God’s Holy Spirit to beget us as members of the God family. We will have more on that in another Bible study, as well as what our potential is.
So what is man? Man is a physical being made of dust, temporary and chemical in nature. He is created in the image and likeness of God; in other words, he looks like God. We have a mind, consisting of a brain and a spirit essence, that gives us our intelligence and our self awareness. God’s Holy Spirit will combine with our human spirit to beget us as a member of God’s family. This is knowledge that the evolutionists and many traditional Christians simply do not have.