Studies in Biblical Anthropology: Human beings as flesh, body and spirit (Part 1: Genesis).

By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.

Adam. Interesting word in Hebrew, Dam is “blood”. Adam means “human being” or “man” (the male version of adam). The word may have a derivative meaning of “red” or “red clay”, such as the word adamah. Blood is, of course, red. God made Adam on the sixth day according to our text. But, we are going to focus in on the word, ruach, or “spirit”. In Genesis, ruach (pronounced, ruh- ock) occurs 11 times. It’s an important word, and one that we find right in the beginning: “And the wind of God hovered over the water’s surface” (Gn 1.2, all translations are mine). Here, “wind” is the word ruach, which many translations have, “Spirit”. It’s a long debate.

The next occurrence we would expect to find when God made the male and female pair. But, we don’t. It is again associated with Yehovah Elohim, the LORD God (he’s not just a god, but he also wields authority as Lord over his creation that he made – it’s his, and everything in it belongs to him). “And they heard the voice of Yehovah Elohim rustling to and fro in Paradise at the wind (ruach) of the day” (Gn 3.8). Again, one may infer “Spirit” here, as in 1.2 above. I have no issues, either way.

In Genesis 6.3 we have no doubts as to the translation: ‘And Yehovah said, “My Spirit, he will not contend in adam for indefinite time, for he is but flesh” (Gn 6.3). This is not the first time we encounter the term “flesh” (basar – Hebrew). Male and Female become one basar through intimacy (Gn 2.24); and Adam calls his counterpart, “flesh of my flesh” (Gn 2.23). God made man, flesh. Eve is flesh, and Adam is flesh. These two can produce other flesh-beings, too. But, here, in Genesis 6.3, man is flesh. It’s what defines him – well, at least one of the characteristics that defines him. We should note that “flesh” is not a bad term, for it used to describe the human beings before their disobedience. God made man, flesh.

The next verse follows closely, “…to destroy all flesh which in it there is a spirit (ruach) of life” (Gn 6.17). This deepens the understanding concerning the creation of adam, for in Genesis 2.7 we are told, “Yehovah Elohim formed the human being (adam) – he used dust from the ground. Then he blew into the formed nose breath of life. By this man was now a living, human being.” Well, here we have our vocabulary cut out for us. The term, “breath”, is neshamah. We also have another word, nephesh, which is commonly translated in many places as “soul.” What I wish to point out is in comparing Gn 2.7 with 6.17, “breath” and “spirit” are interchangeable terms. Thus, it is not until 6.17 that we come to see human beings as having a spirit, and in 2.7 we know when that took place. Human beings are flesh, made of dust from the ground, animated by God’s breath, and by this is given spirit, or, “became a living nephesh.” All of these terms are intertwined with each other, woven together as a single fabric (adam) with various threads (nephesh, basar, ruach, neshemah). If one thread is removed, man ceases to be man in terms of his perfection as man “in the begining.”

We may, at this point, add one more very important detail about adam and eva that does not involve any other creature: God made them, male and female, “in his image” (Gn 1.27). The word there is tselem. Man is an icon that God made; a visible image – a material image – that is reflective of God Himself. Man is a visible image of the invisible God. What God is as Spirit, Man is as flesh. There is a great profundity here. However, what cannot be missed is that man, created as flesh, spirit, breath, and soul-life – all of those aspects in one being – is the image that God made. Man does not have the image of God; he is the image of God. The image of God is not “in” man; it is man as one being with nephesh, basar, ruach, neshemah.

Now, 6.17 may infer that the “spirit of life” is also in the creatures God made, but a careful reading of the text does not bear this out. The term, spirit of life, applies only to the human beings. The creatures, on the other hand, are also described as nephesh beings (soulish beings), or “living beings”. Only Adam and Eve, and in 6.17, Noah, his wife, and their sons and their wives (male and female) that have “the spirit of life” in them, together with “every living creature”, two by two, that Noah brought upon the boat, lived. We may note, too, that the living creatures are referred to as “flesh” (Gn 6.19). Animals, then, are made “of the earth” (Gn 1.25) and are “living beings”. However, “spirit” is never applied to them, and neither is “image of God.” It is not ever said that God “breathed into” the living creatures of the earth. Such intimacy is left for the human beings. This would mean that creatures, as wonderful as they are, lack aspects that human beings have.

7.15, 22 contain the elements we have covered. 8.1 states, “And God caused a wind (ruach) over the earth and the waters subsided.” Here again we find “wind over the waters” (1.2), and one may infer the activity of the Spirit of God “hovering over the waters.” God is personally involved over his creation. Even the wind obeys him.

We have some other terms to add, found in 8.21 and earlier in 6.5. There, man uses “imagination” (yetser) and “thought” (machashavah). Also, “heart” (lev) – the imagination of the thought of the heart (man’s images in his inner thinking, man making his own images). This would, so it would seem, suggest that the spirit “in” man, or man as a living being (nephesh) thinks “inner” thoughts (heart). These thoughts would certainly involve the flesh as well (brain, or “head” as later called). Yet, “in his heart” together with “spirit” connects them together.

Moses, the author of Genesis, takes a long break from the word, ‘spirit.’ Not until 26.35 do we find it again, and there, Isaac and Rebekah are “bitter in spirit”. Likewise, in 41.8 Pharaoh’s “spirit was troubled”. 41.38 is a real gem: “Can we find anyone like this, a man the Spirit of God dwells in?” This is a remarkable passage because we cannot infer that Joseph’s spirit is meant. No translation does. God’s Spirit is “in” Joseph, together with Joseph’s spirit! Finally, in 45.27 Jacob’s “spirit revives” when he hears about his son, Joseph. The Hebrew simply has, “his spirit lived”, whereas the Septuagint, the Greek version (3rd Century BCE) has anazopureo – rekindling a fire: Jacob’s spirit (pneuma) was rekindled, aflame again.

This concludes the use of the term “spirit” in Genesis. Spirit is the active source of what we may call “affections” or “thought”. It works in harmony with the flesh (if the spirit is happy, the flesh leaps, if it is sad, the flesh will express a downcast, or bitter expression in the face, or what have you). Flesh and spirit; “living being” (nephesh), breath of God (same as spirit), heart, thoughts, bitterness, renewed vigor, evil imaginations – are all products of man as basar, nephesh, ruach, lev, macahshavah, yester, neshemah. Together, man is tselem; image. God thinks, reacts, has thoughts, is troubled in heart (Gn 6.6), has a Spirit (Who is God). God “moves” and “hovers”, he “rustles about”, “walks” and “speaks” with a “voice” and a “mouth.” He “sees”, “acts”, uses his “hands” and “breathes.” The invisible God has made a creature that materially reflects the immateriality of God. Thus God created man to “relate” to the actions of the invisible God by analogy of arms, a tongue, voice, mouth, feet, legs and grief, anger, knowledge, right, wrong, good, evil. God can relate to man because God created man to relate to him. More importantly, however, is that man cannot be reduced to any one material description as being; that is, man cannot be reduced to “spirit”, or “flesh”, or “heart”, or “breath”, or “soul.” Man is all of these together, at once, at one time. Man is one person with several, necessary attributes. Remove one, and man ceases being man.

Next week we will delve into Exodus. Please feel free to ask any questions or make any observations, or criticisms. All are welcome.

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