Bible Basics
a Bible Study Course published by the Churches of God

Lesson 4: WHAT IS MAN?

Sometime back in eternity the Creator God conceived a plan by which He would share the magnificence of His unending existence. Because He was "outside time" He was able to look down the ages and see the course He must pursue to achieve this end.

The result was mankind.

Just who is this creature called "man"? Is he (and she) a mere cosmic accident? Will we live forever? What is our nature? Is all this suffering necessary? Why, on earth, are we here? Did God make a mistake?

The mystery of who and why we exist has puzzled man since we first appeared. Philosophers and ordinary mortals have wondered. We observe that man is the pinnacle of the natural world. Our researches prove there's a quantum difference between us and our nearest "relative". But why?

There are myriad notions about man and his nature. To some we just happened - a chance evolutionary development not different in kind from the millions of species that inhabit our planet. Other - billions - imagine they are a reincarnation from a previous life. The established Christian religion teaches that within us lies an "immortal soul" which will survive death in some form (or place) or other.

This lesson seeks to present man's awesome purpose as revealed in the Scriptures. We will see how we came to be. We will blow aside the web of deceit that has clouded man's understanding since we first walked the earth.

Origin of Species?

The position taken by Jesus Christ and the New Testament in general is that mankind had its origin as a direct creation by God. They quote liberally from the first chapters of Genesis for their "worldview" of origins. All their hearers had this same concept. In the last lesson we saw the evidence that confirms the authority of Jesus Christ to make such statements!

  • Jesus refers to mankind as having "a beginning" ...Matthew 19:3
  • and states that man and woman were "made" in the beginning...Mark 10:6
  • the apostle Paul refers to "the first man", and names him Adam, as does the Old Testament ...I Corinthians 15:45, Genesis 2:19 etc
  • According to the Bible the structure of creation presupposes a Designer. The testimony of creation encodes a message about the divine Creator...Psalm 19:1-4

The notion of divine creation as opposed to the evolutionary development of the human race is more than mere biology or dogma. It encompasses our approach to life itself.

  • natural selection or the survival of the fittest is a concept that runs contrary to the divine law of love. This philosophy undergirds Hitler's justification for his master race policies.
  • the humanist philosophy of evolution leaves no room for a divine Being nor for life after death - the hope of the Christian and indeed of nearly all of mankind...I Corinthians 15:12-19
  • leave God out of human existence and there is no purpose in life beyond what we accomplish here and now. Leave God out, and do as we please - until the inevitable Judgment...Ecclesiastes 8:15, Luke 12:14-21

The scientific arguments for evolution need to be constantly revised as old hypotheses are regularly proved erroneous. Evolution has no sure answer to the complexities of the living organism.

  • God condemns those who are willingly ignorant of the clear evidence in nature that He is Creator...Romans 1:18-25
  • mankind is the pinnacle of God's direct creative acts. All of creation is in support of and to benefit mankind...Genesis 1& 2
  • we are created not only with the general form of the divine Being but also to come into His spiritual image...Genesis 1:26, II Peter 1:4

The Living Soul

The idea harbours within him an element which will never die is deeply entrenched in all the world's "great religions". It is usually called "the immortal soul". Views may vary about the origin of the soul and its destiny - but the concept is burned into the subconscious of every human being.

  • literally billions - including perhaps the majority of New Age believers and increasingly large number of Christians - subscribe to the idea that their soul was passed on from a prior existence; the concept re-incarnation. It is the general belief of the Eastern religions.
  • others (e.g. in Mormon teaching) believe they receive a "fresh" pre-existing soul from God when they first draw breath. Some mainstream theologians also held this view (e.g. Origen).
  • Christians generally accept its presence with no fixed view as to when it becomes part of them. However, it has been a topic of dispute through the centuries. Creationism, for example, states God creates a new soul for each at birth (Jerome, Calvin). Traducianism teaches that the soul and body are created by propagation (Tertullian, Lee, Luther). The Lateran Council (1513) condemned to be punished as heretics those who "...assert that the intellectual soul is mortal". It was a life and death matter to believe this!

In our search for the truth we clearly need to examine the Scriptures to see if this concept of an immortal soul - or indeed of an immortal human spirit - is there confirmed. It is clear that within a couple of centuries of Jesus Christ, the idea that the soul is immortal had become firmly embedded in Christianity. Was it so from the beginning?

Man was created from the natural elements, from "the dust of the ground" - earth. Into this complex physical form God breathed "the breath of life". As a result man became alive. As the KJV puts it, he "became a living soul"

  • man is formed from the material elements found in the physical creation. Together with the "breath of life" he became "a living soul"...Genesis 2:7
  • ...just like the whole of the non-human creation...Genesis 1:20, 24, 30; 7:21-22
  • birds, fish, animals are often called "living souls" [nephesh] in the Scriptures. Do they also live beyond death? Eccles 3:19-21
  • all return to dust...v.20, Genesis 3:19
  • one of the clearest Bible texts emphatically declares that immortality belongs only to God. Our doctrine of man must be set against this backdrop...I Timothy 6:15-16
  • other direct statements declare "the soul [nephesh] that sins shall die"...Ezekiel 18:4, 20
  • Jesus held the same view...John 3:16. Here he contrasts eternal life and perishing - the terms are opposites. Without Jesus Christ (the normal human condition) we will perish. When we have true belief in him we are given a life that will never end...I John 5:11,12
  • when we sin the pay-off is death. It is not "eternal life in hell-fire". In contrast, through Jesus Christ we receive the gift of eternal life...Romans 6:23
  • since all of us have sinned we all reap the death penalty. Unless we have repented and had our sin covered by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
  • note that the soul of Jesus was sacrificed - killed - and his life blood poured out ...Isaiah 53:10-12, John 19:34, Heb 9:22
  • we learn from God's recorded Word that the 'life' [soul, nephesh] is in the blood ...Leviticus 17:11, 14; Deut 12:23
  • the apostle Peter gave the remedy for sin. On the first Christian Pentecost he told his hearers: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit"...Acts 2:38
  • it is through this gift of the Holy Spirit that God shares with us His immortality. God is [Holy] Spirit, and His purpose is to make us His dwelling-place ...John 4:24, Ephesians 2:22
  • recall that this gift is available only to those who obey God...Acts 5:32

Why A Resurrection?

A Christian funeral usually includes the words "in sure and certain hope of the resurrection". Why? What need is there for a resurrection if true believers are "with Christ" immediately they die? This, of course, is the established view of mainstream Christianity. At death we either go to 'heaven' or to 'hell' (or, to the intermediate 'purgatory' of Roman theology).

The Biblical view that man does not naturally have immortality (an immortal soul) dovetails with the clear teaching of Scripture that the entrance to the Kingdom of God is by means of a resurrection. There's no place in the Scriptures for disembodied spirits - apart from 'devils' - in any location. The notion of such departed human spirits is foreign to the Bible.

  • death ends everything until God raises us from the dead: we have no memories, no knowledge of what those still living are experiencing, no opportunity to praise God...Psalm 6:5, 146:4, 104:23-30, Eccles 9:5, Isaiah 63:16, Job 14:21
  • but all mankind will be raised from the dead, each in a particular order to face God ...Hebrews 9:27, I Corinthians 15:22-26, John 5:21-29
  • for those who have repented of sin and been baptized this resurrection coincides with the return of Christ as King of kings...Colos 3:4, I Corinthians 15:51-52, Revelation 20:4-5
  • the idea of resurrection is also implicit in the Old Testament...Hebrews 11:17-19, Job 14:14-15, Psalm 16:9-10
  • Daniel links the future "reward" for God's people with a resurrection in a distant future - following a future time of tribulation...Daniel 12:1-3
  • the LXX Greek version (3rd cent BC) uses the word aeonion for the Hebrew 'everlasting'. Jesus and the NT writers built on this.

Occult Origins of the "Immortal Soul"

Virtually all mankind believes in some form of existence immediately following death. The idea trails many ugly concepts: returning to life as an inferior being, concern about infants and harmless but unconverted adults burning in eternal fire, Christians in heaven seeing the horrendous suffering of loved ones on earth or in the 'hell' portrayed in Dante's Inferno, prayer to disembodied spirits of those who have 'passed on', contact with the dead through mediums etc.

Given all this Scripture evidence that man is mortal and has to be given immortality (with conditions attached!) - how did the idea of an immortal soul become so widely accepted?

  • tradition suggests that our first parents lived perfectly for some seven years in Eden. Then, according to the Scriptures, their faith was compromised by "the serpent"...Genesis ch. 3
  • this 'serpent' [Heb: nachash, Gk. ophis] is identified in the NT as "the Devil and Satan"...Revelation 12:9, 20:2
  • he, the 'father of lies', introduced the false idea that man is of himself immortal...Genesis 3:4, John 8:44
  • God had warned our first parents that if they ate of a particular tree (the 'tree of life') they would that day die. Did they?...Genesis 2:15-17, 5:3-5
  • clearly, God was not speaking of physical death. By their disobedience, their transgression of this divine torah (= direction, teaching, law), they sinned and would thus be denied aeonian life...Romans 6:23, I John 3:4, Hebrews 9:27
  • only through repentance, through ceasing to disobey God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and through the acceptance of the shed blood of the Saviour Jesus Christ to cover our sin may any of us have that life of the age to come
  • Satan, man's adversary, sowed the subtle lie that man would live for ever even when he disobeyed the Creator...Genesis 3:4
  • mankind has swallowed this lie whole, and Satan, the occult power that seeks to thwart God's grand design for mankind, has successfully deceived virtually the whole human race in this as in so much else...Revelation 12:9, I John 5:19, II Corinthians 4:4

What About the 'Spirit in Man'?

Perceptive Bible students may wonder about the various references in Scripture to a "human spirit". We have demonstrated by numerous clear passages that man's 'soul' is his physical life, and doesn't survive death except by a resurrection. So what about this "spirit in man"?

Whatever it may be, the human spirit is not immortal. Let's see what the Bible teaches about the word used for 'spirit' (Hebrew/Aramaic ruach), translated by a dozen or so English words in the KJV, and used some 380 times. The Greek equivalent pneuma) appears in the NT a similar number of times.

  • the words include both the physical and the immaterial. 'Spirit' is invisible - the Spirit of God, angels, wind, breath, the human spirit, mind attitude etc
  • the human spirit is the aspect of man with which God communicates and by which we understand the world around us...Romans 8:16, I Corinthians 2:9-12
  • it is the 'spark of life' which divides life from death...James 2:26, Ecclesiastes 12:7, Acts 7:59, Luke 23:46
  • the human spirit is an integral part of the whole man...I Thessalonians 5:23
  • animals, too, have a spirit. The original words are the same (Heb=ruach)...Ecclesiastes 3: 18-22, Numbers 16:22, 27:16
  • we may speculate that the human and animal spirit is a product of the marvelously intricate nervous systems with which each living creature is endowed. We share a pattern, but with man as the pinnacle - alone capable of rational thought, aesthetic appreciation, consciousness of a world beyond the material and the need to worship. Man was created "in the image of God" with the capacity to manage earth and all its resources ...Genesis 1:26-30, 2: 15
  • the spirit is capable of being depressed, revived etc. It is in process of being fashioned through our life experiences...Isaiah 57:15, Zechariah 12:1, Isaiah 64:8, Judges 15:19, I Kings 21:5
  • no matter what our station in life every human being who has lived, whether converted or unconverted, will be called to account for our lives before God...Matthew 12:36, Heb 9:27
  • the functioning of our nervous system produces the totality of the human persona - the whole person. Our dominant traits, gifts, are special configurations of our neurons determined by our genetic inheritance - musicians, physical traits etc.
  • God communicates with us through the human spirit. His special gifts (Gk. pneumatikoi derived from pneuma=spirit) to His sons and daughters may well act through the human spirit...Romans 8:16, 1:11, I Corinthians 12:1

The purpose of our existence is not the gratification and cosseting of the self. God has put us here with purpose - to develop into His spiritual image. This demands a lifetime of experience. Every thought, every word we utter, every action contributes to the ultimate "form" of our human spirit - our character.

Only by the yielding of our life to God, through Jesus Christ who is the way to the Father, can that character be complete. Through him we may receive the very Spirit of God - our essential missing ingredient. Through His Spirit God can reside in us - but only in those who are willing to fully submit their life to Him...Acts 5:32, Romans 12:1-2

Hope of the Resurrection

It's against the background of the proven utter mortality of man that we must set those texts in Scripture which might otherwise on superficial examination imply man's survival immediately after death to heaven, hell, purgatory. The Bible writers don't spell out their full understanding every time they address a particular topic. The underlying principles are assumed. This is especially so in the matter discussed in this lesson. Not one Bible writer subscribed to the notion of an immortal soul

  • the apostle Paul is often cited as having the belief of immediate transport to heaven upon death. But as a 'Hebrew of the Hebrew' he knew man was mortal, that life beyond life depended on a resurrection...I Corinthians 15:50-56, Col 3:1-4, I Thessalonians 4:13-18, II Corinthians 4:14
  • Paul, filled with his love for God, longed for the time he would go to be with Him and with Jesus Christ. This was his cherished hope. But he knew his wish would only be fulfilled at the return of Christ...Philippians 1:23-24, II Timothy 4:6-8
  • now read the passage in II Corinthians 5:1-10 with this background concept in mind. Paul expected to appear before Christ's 'judgment seat' for the purpose of reward and correction (v.10). When would that happen?... Revelation 11:15-18, 22:12

The Bible is clear - man is mortal. We will, upon repentance, be given immortality through a resurrection, and at the return of Jesus Christ "at the last trumpet". The Bible knows nothing of the perverted Greek philosophical notion of an immortal soul!

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin was first published in 1859. It reflected then current esoteric ideas, but is generally considered as the beginning of the concept of the evolution of mankind

Adam derives from a word signifying rosy (cheek). It is often used for man, mankind, and is related to earth. Eve (Heb chavah) signifies life-giving

Wm Paley - the 18th C, philosopher - is regarded by today's scientists as a scientific heretic. He maintained that the natural world could be explained only by presuming a Grand Designer

"The whole respiratory system is utterly dependent on each of its parts: a defect in just one and breathing becomes difficult or impossible. It is all or nothing, which is why I find it difficult to believe that the lungs could ever have evolved by trial and error through the chance mutation of the many genes that control their development. Surely someone designed them to be the way they are?" He adds, "Increasingly I am persuaded by Paley's arguments"
[Dr Le Fanu: Sunday Telegraph, 1996]

[Evolution is a system in which] "the message is always 'exploit your environment including your friends and relatives so as to maximize our genes' success'"
[George C Williams, evolutionary biologist]

Rejection of self-evident truth (e.g. that design requires a Designer) undermines logical thought processes. If unchecked, this perversion will destroy mankind

When studying what may at first appear complex in the Scriptures it is helpful to first sketch out a doctrine using apparently clear and unambiguous texts

"Souls are immortal, as God Himself is immortal and eternal"
[Origen died c 254AD]

"I may use the opinion of Plato when he declares, 'every soul is immortal"

"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 soul" [Gen 2:7]

The "breath of life" is simply air - a mix of vital gases - blown by God into Adam's lungs through his nose. Without it we are dead flesh!

In the Old Testament soul is a translation of the Hebrew nephesh. It is thus translated 428 times, and translated a further 180 or so times by other words

Nephesh is variously translated:
  creature (e.g. Gen 1:21,24; 2:9)
  dead body (e.g. Num 5:2, 21:11)
  beast (Leviticus 24:18)
  life (119 times)
  fish (Isaiah 19:10)

"Biologists now recognize that the formation of life is altogether harder than they originally thought...One of the most radical suggestions...[is] that life began as a form of clay" [1997 clipping]

"The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body...[is] nowhere expressly taught in the Holy Scriptures"
[Jewish Encyclopaedia Art: Immortality of the Soul]

"...the King of kings and Lord of lords who alone has immortality" [I Timothy 6:15-16]. immortality here means 'deathlessness'. It is not our normal state but must be 'put on'
[I Corinthians 15:53, 54]

The term "immortal soul" does not appear at all in the Scriptures of the Old or New Testament

Note that Jesus said the soul [Gk. psuche=Heb nephesh] can be destroyed in 'hell' [Matthew 10:28]

Eternal life: (Gk. aeonion = pertaining to the age)
"What appears in the English versions of the Bible as 'eternal life' or 'life everlasting' really means 'the life of the age to come'... It is synonymous with the Kingdom of God." He continues "The chief implication of 'aeonian life' pertaining to the age to come".
[Alan Richardson Intro to the Theology of the New Testament] A future lesson will discuss the Kingdom of God and resurrection in more detail

The notion of "praying to the saints" is an idea drawn from occult sources. The Bible rejects the idea throughout. The idea was common among the Babylonians. They believed their 5,000 or so 'gods' were once heroes on earth

"In putting departed souls in heaven, hell or purgatory you destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection...If the soul be in heaven what cause is there for the resurrection? [Wm Tyndale]

"Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt"
[Daniel 12:2]

It's important to carefully study the texts quoted in your own Bible, and in context!

There is no suggestion in the OT of the transmigration of the soul as an immaterial, immortal entity" [Marshall Pickering Encyclopaedia of the Bible v.2, art soul]

The 'king of Tyre' symbolizes Satan, once known as Lucifer (=light bearer). Ezekiel tells us he was once a created 'anointed cherub' present at God's throne. There will be a lesson later in the Course on the angelic world...see also Isaiah 14

'Soul Sleep': Technically known as psychopannychy (!), the term 'soul sleep' does not correctly express the Bible teaching. The soul dies, but death itself is frequently described as a 'sleep'. [Daniel 12:2, John 11:11-14, Matthew 27:52 etc.]

It is a deadly mistake to assume that God will share His immortality with those who refuse to obey Him. However, in no way does this imply that salvation is God's unearned gift to us

How God deals with those who lived without having heard the true Gospel will be the subject of another lesson

"...the whole world is in the power of the evil one"
[I John 5:19 RSV]

Angels are also 'spirit'. Yet they are created beings, and exist only as long as God permits. Cherubs, too, are created angelic beings. Recall that we read Satan was once 'an anointed cherub'...Colossians 1:16-17, Ezekiel 28:12-17, Hebrews 1:7,14

A typical worm or slug brain has twenty nerve cells (neurons), a bee several thousand, a frog four million. Mammals show a great leap - a cat has 100 million.

Human brains, however, have ten billion intricately interconnecting neurons - what has been described as "the most complicated machine in the known universe". One neurologist estimates the number of interconnections at 'one followed by a million kilometers of noughts"!

The complex "artificial intelligence" of computers is based on the neurological structure and function of the brain

Just when we are given the opportunity to perfect our character through Christ is God's choice. But as a future lesson will reveal, every human who has lived will in the end have been given that opportunity

In the Scriptures God has given us with perfect clarity all we need to know about Him and His plan for our present life and for our eternal future. But we can't simply take down our KJV - or any version - and hope to resolve every theological nuance without some expert guidance.

Many factors can affect the meaning. Geography can be important for understanding. The focus of the writer. The context. The underlying but not always stated theology. Preconceived but unbiblical notions of the student. The challenges of accurate translation from a strange language. And the prevailing culture - so different to our own. For example, even the Biblical perception of 'time' can affect our ability to understand a particular passage.

Failure to account for such factors leads to much misunderstanding of the Biblical text

Future lessons will examine in detail the Biblical view of 'heaven' and 'hell'

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