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The Nature of Man
By David B. Smith

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iBelieve: I'm Fallen, but Redeemable  | PDF Version

It was a grim and heartbreaking day in a Riverside ICU. “Waldo,” the kid movie star from the Our Gang film franchise, had been struck down by a drugged-out hit-and-run driver. For hours Pastor Ken Smith hovered between life and death, but in the end the trauma was simply too great . . . and my father passed away at 8:40 in the evening.

Earlier that morning he had been a live, breathing, generous, fun-loving man: a husband about to take his bride of 51 years on a cruise. He was Dad to me and three other sons and four daughters-in-law, Grandpa to nine kids, missionary mentor to thousands. But as the heart monitors began their sad, final, terminal slide to a flat line, this six-foot-tall mass of tissue became dead flesh.

So where did the PERSON go? What happens to our SOUL when we die?

It’s a common conception, held by the majority of good Christians — and even many scholars — that when a person dies, their soul “floats free” and either ascends to heaven or survives to immediately experience eternal torment. But does the Bible actually teach this?

We find an early reference to the idea of a soul even in the Creation account. Genesis 2:7 reads: 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 soul. Notice that Adam himself was a soul as opposed to the familiar idea of having a soul. In the popular film Titanic, there’s a wrenching moment when Captain Smith asks his first officer how many people are on the ship. Murdoch replies in a thin voice: “Two thousand two hundred souls on board, sir.” Meaning people — men, women, children, and the star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose.

But God’s people do not get their theology from films! The ancient writers used several words that we find translated “soul” in our English Bibles. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word nephesh conveyed the idea of breathing; it basically means a living being or person. The NT Greek equivalent was the word psuchÄ“. In some cases, these words referred to a person’s thoughts, emotions, desires, and appetites. However, in neither language did the expression describe a conscious spirit being able to survive outside of the body. Revelation 16:3 describes a heavenly bowl of wrath poured out where “every living thing” (psuchÄ“) in the sea perished, people and ocean creatures alike.

The other popular phrase to refer to a soul was the Hebrew ruach, essentially meaning “spirit,” “wind,” or “breath.” In the NT, pneuma conveyed the same idea. Bible writers used these words to express a “life principle,” as where our Creator God breathed into the nostrils of an inanimate Adam, and the still, lifeless form suddenly became a living man. Methodist theologian Arthur S. Peake writes: “If we then ask the question, ‘What is man?’ and try to answer it, not in the old theological, but in the new physiological fashion, we shall see, that for the Hebrew, man is a unity, and that that unity in a body is a complex of parts, drawing their life and activity from a breath-soul, which has no existence apart from the body. The Hebrews never had thought of a disembodied soul.”
Mankind is not an “evolved” being. Notice that the biblical account is not one of endless evolution where the human race rises up from lower forms of animal life. Instead, we come directly from the Creator’s hand as perfect and holy souls: body and “breath” combined into a thinking, obedient creature. This is the Bible’s testimony about the moral stature of Adam and Eve: “You [God] made him a little lower than the angels; You crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet” (Hebrews 2:7). You and I are not simply one biological notch above the apes. No, there is a stark difference between all the dazzling variety of animals God placed in Eden . . . and the human couple He created from His own hand to rule the earth and act as wise stewards of its finite resources.

The Fall. Plainly the Eden model has tragically disintegrated! The account of Adam and Eve being deceived is well-known; the Word of God describes how the entire race fell into rebellion and became subject to death because of their mistake. 1 Corinthians 15:22: There is a nice symmetry in this: Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man (Message paraphrase). In one cataclysmic moment, the unstained nature of man was changed. Today all seven billion living members of the human race are sinners. Still fashioned as an indivisible unit, men and women now have a fallen, sinful orientation; there is a downward gravitational pull to our every thought and impulse. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Guilt, evasion, and denial became our instinctive nature; the moment they slipped, Adam and Eve immediately fell into the trap of blaming others for their own choices.

I’m studying this doctrine while entertaining my two-year-old granddaughter Katrina for the Christmas holidays. Like the hurricane, she sometimes manifests a stormy temperament. Due to a certain indulgent grandma, she has developed a craving for “hot dogs”; now she bursts into tears and screams and fixes her host with a fiery gaze of indignation if offered, oh, Jell-o or Cheerios or bananas or anything that is NOT hotdogs. I don’t know if this is the manifestation of a fallen, sinful nature, but certain emotional moments even within the past half hour have definitely not reflected the quiet glory of a pristine Eden. I can attest to the truth of the Bible confession: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).

The New Man. The marvelous gospel news is that God offers His creation a new covenant of restoration. What’s more, we are promised that Jesus Himself serves as the guarantee of our salvation. Hebrews 7:25: Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.

View related article: Orcs and Sinners

David B. Smith writes from California. (7 of 28) His web page is davidsmithbooks.com. Biblebay Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information.